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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 June, 2003, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Obituary: Juergen Moellemann
Juergen Moellemann
Moellemann was once seen as a possible FDP leader
Populist German politician Juergen Moellemann, who has died while making a parachute jump, once described his career as a roller-coaster ride.

After a political career which spanned more than three decades and saw him rise to ministerial office, Mr Moellemann found himself dogged by allegations of anti-semitism and sleaze.

At the time of his death, he was being investigated for alleged fraud and illegal party funding, and just that morning had been deprived of his parliamentary immunity.

But he is perhaps best known in recent years for his outspoken criticism of Israeli leaders and a prominent German-Jewish broadcaster, and for championing the Palestinian cause.

Flamboyant style

Mr Moellemann, a 57-year-old former paratrooper from Augsburg, Bavaria, has been described by disenchanted colleagues as an abrasive opportunist.

He had a reputation as a showman and a passion for skydiving, often arriving by parachute at political rallies.

Juergen Moellemann during parachute drop
Moellemann sometimes parachuted into rallies
His flamboyant style invites comparison with the far-right Austrian leader Joerg Haider, whom he sometimes appeared to admire.

He was elected to parliament in 1972 as a deputy for the centrist pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), the party which held the balance of power in Germany from the 1960s to the 1980s.

He was a protege of then FDP leader, former foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher, and served with him as education minister and later economics minister in former chancellor Helmut Kohl's coalition government.

He was seen as a possible future leader of the FDP, until his life was first rocked by scandal a decade ago.

He stepped down as a minister in January 1993, after admitting that he had urged several chain stores to buy products made by a relative's company.

Controversial remarks

He had a stormy relationship with his own party, resigning from a senior post in late 1994 after then FDP leader Klaus Kinkel failed to invite him to coalition talks with Chancellor Kohl.

Neo-Nazi march backing Mr Moellemann
Moellemann found some unlikely allies
Mr Moellemann attempted a comeback by standing against Wolfgang Gerhardt for the party leadership in June 1995 but was heavily defeated.

He maintained a high profile as FDP chairman in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

But he was rarely far from controversy, as he attempted to revive the fortunes of a party which now had to compete with the Greens for the position of third force in German politics.

As head of the German-Arab Society, last year he upset Jews by suggesting that if his country was occupied he would resist violently just as Palestinian militants were doing.

Final eclipse

And just before Germany's general election in September 2002, he published and distributed to eight million voters an anti-Israeli leaflet in what was seen as a last-ditch attempt to woo right-wing voters.

Though many Jews agreed with his criticisms of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, correspondents say this type of behaviour is still widely considered unacceptable in Germany for non-Jews.

Outrage over the leaflet led to closer examination of party finances and the discovery of apparant breaches of party funding rules.

Mr Moellemann also accused a prominent German Jewish chat show host, Michael Friedman, of encouraging anti-Semitism because of his "intolerant, spiteful manner".

His remarks prompted the FDP to expel him from the party, though he retained his parliamentary seat as an independent.

There was speculation that he might set up his own party modelled on Mr Haider's Austrian Freedom Party or the anti-immigration Pim Fortuyn list in the Netherlands.

But the funding scandal finally caught up with him, and police searches of his homes and offices instigated after his immunity was lifted were only halted with the news of his death.


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