Reinhard Hüttl had risen to the very top of German science. The soil scientist was head of the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), where he commanded a staff of more than 1200 and a €95 million budget. He was vice president of acatech, Germany’s engineering-focused national academy, and vice president of the nation’s most prestigious state academy, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW). His advice even reached Chancellor Angela Merkel—for example as a government adviser with the Council on Bioeconomy.
That world has come crashing down. Last month, police raided Hüttl’s homes and offices in Berlin and Potsdam on suspicion of fraud, breach of trust, and illegal acceptance of benefits by a public official—offenses that can be punished with fines or prison sentences. On 26 January, the GFZ board dismissed him, saying it “no longer sees any basis for a trustworthy cooperation.” The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which finances the bulk of the GFZ budget, terminated his contract the same day.
Hüttl denies the allegations and has said he would sue BMBF for unlawful dismissal, although labor courts in Berlin and Potsdam said on 16 February that no lawsuits have been filed. Meanwhile, the high-profile case is turning heads in science policy circles across the nation. “Science is damaged severely if it is perceived to be led by interests and to be corrupt,” says Klaus Gärditz, who specializes in science law at the University of Bonn.