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Controversial Politician Dies in Parachuting Accident

A disgraced former leader of Germany's liberals, Jürgen W. Möllemann, died Thursday in a parachuting accident. Police said his death, which came on the same day as an investigation against him, was apparently a suicide.


Jürgen W. Möllemann was an experienced parachutist.

Investigators said that disgraced former politician Jürgen Möllemann who died in a parachute accident on Thursday most likely killed himself.

Eyewitnesses told German television that Möllemann, a former army parachutist, opened the parachute and then cut it free from his body before plummeting to the ground. A spokesman for local investigators told reporters they believe he committed suicide, but wouldn't release further details.

The 57-year-old former deputy leader of Germany's liberal Free Democratic Party, was married and the father of three daughters.

"Regardless of all the differences in political opinion, I extend my condolences to his family," said German Interior Minister Otto Schily.

Members of the FDP, from which he resigned on March 17, were in shock Thursday. FDP head Guido Westerwelle said the party's thoughts were with Möllemann's family. Party colleague Gerhart Baum speculated that Möllemann's recent fall from grace led to his death.

"I can imagine that he didn't have any more political perspective and feared the start of the investigation [into him]," Baum told reporters.

Former star of the liberals

On the day of Möllemann's death state investigators raided his home after the German parliament lifted the protection of immunity. Police are investigating Möllemann and five others for fraud and tax evasion.

Once a star of the liberals in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous, Möllemann left the party in March after a number of scandals. During last year's election campaign, pro-Arab Möllemann hurt his party's chances by distributing campaign leaflets criticizing Israel and Jewish community leaders in Germany.

The leaflets came at a time when criticism of Israel was a particularly touchy subject in Germany. Möllemann had rocked the boat earlier in the year by criticizing a leading German Jewish figure, saying his "intolerant and hateful style" was responsible for the rise in anti-Semitism in Germany.

The campaign stunt was characteristic of the colorful and no-holds barred politician, who would parachute into campaign events in the yellow-and-blue colors of the FDP.

Held responsible for vote loss

But it was not well received by voters or his party. The FDP lost votes on election day, ruining their chances of forming a government coalition with the Christian Democratic Union and unseating Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Party leaders held Möllemann responsible for their bad results during national elections in September. He was forced to give up his position as deputy leader of the FDP. In October, allegations surfaced that he maintained illegal party bank accounts to the tune of €1.5 million ($1.48 million).

On March 17, Möllemann resigned from the party rather than undergo a humiliating party investigation. But the former economics minister under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and father of three kept his parliamentary seat.

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