- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

BERLIN Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder fired his defense minister yesterday after reports that he took more than $72,000 in royalties from a public relations adviser.
In a terse statement 10 weeks before national elections, Mr. Schroeder said "there is no longer a basis for working together in government" with Rudolf Scharping, who has held the job since Mr. Schroeder won office in 1998.
Mr. Schroeder said he would ask President Johannes Rau to relieve Mr. Scharping of his duties and replace him with Peter Struck, parliamentary floor leader of his Social Democratic Party.
The government also said a planned visit to Germany today by British Prime Minister Tony Blair was postponed.
Later, Mr. Scharping said he did nothing wrong and asserted there were signs of a "targeted campaign" against him.
Mr. Schroeder is in a tough re-election campaign against conservative Bavarian Gov. Edmund Stoiber, who said Mr. Scharping's ouster showed the weakness of the Social Democratic-led government.
"This is an important day for Germany, which hopefully will make our citizens see how weak the government is and make them draw the appropriate conclusions," Mr. Stoiber said.
Mr. Scharping, 54, is the eighth minister to leave the Schroeder government since it came to power. The last to go were the health and agriculture ministers, who resigned in January 2001 amid the government's botched handling of Germany's outbreak of mad cow disease.
The ouster came just days after the replacement of Ron Sommer as chief executive of Deutsche Telekom, the German phone giant where the government holds a 43 percent stake.
Mr. Scharping has been at the center of a series of embarrassments for the Schroeder government during the past year. The charges about payments from the public relations firm appeared Wednesday in the newsmagazine Stern.
The minister said in an interview with the Bild daily that he received payments totaling $72,100 for his memoirs and for speeches sponsored by the public relations agency represented by Moritz Hunzinger.
But Mr. Scharping said he properly reported the payments to tax authorities and said they were related to deals concluded before he became a minister in 1998.
"My behavior conforms to the law, and I can't do more than that, so I saw no reason to resign," he said. "I am leaving this office with my head held high."
German ministers are not allowed to receive any payments other than their ministerial salary.

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