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Germany

Keeping Germany’s Powerful Lobbyist at Arm’s Length

Microsoft Germany has distanced itself from lobbyist Moritz Hunzinger, after his questionable activities led to a prominent German politician’s dismissal and since unearthed a series of discomfiting political links.

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The man behind Germany's current political earthquake - lobbyist Moritz Hunzinger

Moritz Hunzinger has given top German politicians the jitters ever since defence minister Rudolph Scharping was sacked last week following revelations of a close financial relationship with Hunzinger's PR agency .

Close on the heels of Scharping, Cem Özdemir, a prominent member of the environmentalist Greens, the junior coalition partner is at pains to admit that he was "naive" in accepting a DM 80,000 loan from Hunzinger in 1999.

The next to come under pressure and increased scrutiny is Hans-Martin Bury, a rising star of the governing Social Democrats. Mr Bury sat on the supervisory board of Mr Hunzinger’s public relations and opinion research agency till his promotion in August 1999 to become a junior minister directly responsible to Mr Schröder.

Government anxious to wipe out whiffs of scandal

A shaken German government which goes to the polls in September, on Monday strongly denied a report suggesting that foreign minister and probably Germany’s best-known politician, Joschka Fischer broke rules by getting royalties on a 1999 book on losing weight from the Hunzinger public relations firm.

A foreign ministry statement made it icily clear that Germany’s most popular politician had earned royalties from several books he had written and said he had declared tax on the income and reported it to the parliament.

The ever-increasing hints of sleaze and allegations of underhanded deals finally prompted government spokesman, Uwe-Karsten Heye on Monday to formally deny that any other ministers had financial contacts with the 43-year-old Mr Hunzinger.

Hunzinger for his part has consistently repeated that all his dealings are above-board and explained that opening doors for corporate clients and helping politicians spike their images is all part of the lobbyist’s job.

"We work publicly and transparently", he said in a statement last week.

Microsoft Germany taking no chances?

But it’s not just politicians who are now nervously refusing to have anything to do with the notorious Mr Hunzinger with his reputation for helping well-placed friends with a lavish entertaining budget.

On Tuesday, the German branch of the giant software company, Microsoft surprisingly announced that it had commissioned the ECC Public Affairs - a political advisory group within the respected European Communications Consultants Group (ECC) – "with its communication strategy towards political decision-makers".

It was tight-lipped about its dealing with the Hunzinger Public Relations Corporation, which is a subsidiary for public affairs of the Hunzinger Information group listed on the Neuer Markt in Frankfurt.

Hunzinger paid hefty sum to sway Berlin?

Among other assignments, Hunzinger had helped to organise Bill Gate’s visit to Germany in February 1999 for Microsoft, during which German Chancellor Schröder together with Gates awarded the Microsoft prize for internet projects to young students on the topic "German parliamentary elections 1998".

Hunzinger was also among a small army of lobbyists hired by Microsoft Germany last year to sway politicians in Berlin to install Microsoft software in the German parliament.

Hunzinger was rumoured to have been paid a seven-digit fee in marks for a controversial campaign in getting the government to favour Microsoft over a rival bid by Linux.

Microsoft Germany didn’t link the recent scandals surrounding Hunzinger to its decision to deal with the ECC Public Affairs group instead. It merely said that its contract with the Hunzinger corporation "expired as planned on July 2002".

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