BERLIN Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg dismissed accusations of plagiarism on Wednesday as "fanciful" as newspapers said Germany's most popular politician passed others' work off as his own in his doctoral dissertation.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Guttenberg -- who is considered a possible future candidate for chancellor -- had lifted pages of his law dissertation without correctly attributing them in a footnote or bibliography.
"The accusation that my dissertation is plagiarism is fanciful," 39-year-old Guttenberg, a photogenic conservative who consistently tops polls of Germany's most popular politicians, said in a statement.
The Munich newspaper published two passages it said were near-copies of un-cited original material. Another paper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, reported later that Guttenberg had copied the beginning of the dissertation's introduction from an article by a political scientist published in its own pages.
"It baffles me altogether that he did it -- from the moral side it's a blatant violation of academic integrity, and from the political side it's just exquisitely foolish," the author of the article, Professor Barbara Zehnpfennig, told Reuters TV.
Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted cautiously to the brewing scandal, with her spokesman saying she was taking an interest in the case but would wait for a decision from university authorities before passing judgment.
Diethelm Klippel, an ombudsman who is reviewing the charge of plagiarism and who was a member of the board that accepted the dissertation, has said the university administered the doctoral examination correctly.
"MY OWN WORK"
Guttenberg finished his dissertation at the University of Bayreuth in 2006 and it was published in 2009 under the title, "Constitution and Constitutional Treaty: Constitutional developments in the USA and EU".
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Guttenberg had lifted one passage from a newspaper article and another from a public lecture without attributing them, while other texts were attributed incorrectly.
"I am happy to check whether, among the more than 1,200 footnotes and 475 pages, certain footnotes may not have been inserted or may not have been correctly inserted, and I would bear this in mind for republication," Guttenberg said.
The newspaper said Guttenberg, a member of the Christian Social Union, Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats, was under stress to finish his dissertation while working as a member of parliament.
"Should someone come up with the idea that a member of my office may have collaborated on the academic preparation of my dissertation, I would have to answer -- it's simply not true," said Guttenberg, an MP since 2002. "The writing of the dissertation was my own work."
Guttenberg received the top grade of summa cum laude for the dissertation, which could be revoked if he were found to have violated academic standards.
Opposition parties have put Guttenberg under pressure in recent weeks for his handling of scandals in the military, including the death of a cadet aboard a naval training ship.
(Additional reporting by Brian Rohan, Sabine Siebold, Reuters TV; editing by David Stamp)