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Troublemaker Möllemann Steps Down From Throne

October 23, 2002

The controversial German Free Democrat Jürgen Möllemann resigned as regional party leader of North-Rhine Westphalia in response to allegations that he used illegal donations to finance a brochure critical of Israel.

Regional FDP leader Jürgen Möllemann is still a cause of controversyImage: AP

Jürgen Möllemann stepped down as regional party leader in North-Rhine Westphalia on Sunday in the wake of internal party revelations that the politician had paid for a campaign brochure critical of Israel with illegal donations.

The free market party’s members heaved a sigh of relief after Möllemann’s resignation. FDP leader Guido Westerwelle deemed it "as responsible as it is necessary," adding that Möllemann had saved himself from being sacked. The FDP’s second-in-command in North-Rhine Westphalia, Andreas Pinkwart, called on Möllemann to give up his mandates in the regional and national parliaments as well.

Dubious dealings

The dam broke loose on Friday when party treasurer Günter Rexrodt announced that Möllemann, viewed by many party members as a thorn in the FDP’s side, had maintained an illegal party bank account with funds to the tune of 840,000 euros. According to Rexrodt, 145 donations -- of which 144 totalled more than 1000 euros -- were anonymously paid in cash into 14 different banks. German law restricts cash donations to 1000 euros, while anonymous donations are limited to 500 euros.

Möllemann allegedly used the slush fund to pay for the distribution of 8.5 million copies of a campaign brochure critical of Israel to households in North-Rhine Westphalia.

Populist tendancies

Möllemann has been repeatedly accused of having populist tendencies. He launched a campaign to propel the FDP back into government in a coalition with the conservatives, in an optimistic attempt to gain 18 percent votes. But after the Free Democrats' massive failure in the elections, Möllemann has been under fire for what many members see as sabotage to the election campaign.

Earlier this year he was the centre of controversy after accusing the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, of war-mongering. His campaign brochure which criticised the vice-president of the German Jewish Community, Michael Friedman, only made matters worse. Both the brochure and Möllemann have been described as "anti-semitic".

Health concerns prevent naming names

The disgraced politician has so far refused to name donors to the account, despite the Monday ultimatum set by party leader Westerwelle. From the Canary Island, where he is currently recovering from heart problems, Möllemann accused members of the FDP leadership of having arranged a “hunt” to force his “political death.” Möllemann claims that his doctors have prohibited him from engaging in any professional activities until early December, including responding to the allegations against him.

According to FDP-treasurer Rexrodt, Möllemann is able to drive a car, write letters and make announcements, so he should also be able to name names. “The resignation won’t stop the FDP from uncovering the activities surrounding the special bank account,” Westerwelle told the press.

All legal means necessary

After a meeting of the FDP leadership in Berlin on Monday the party leadership announced that if Möllemann doesn’t reveal the names of the donors within the next few days, it will use all legal mean necessary to force him to name them. Westerwelle emphasized that Möllemann’s work for the FDP is over “for the long term.”