BERLIN — German prosecutors have dropped an investigation into alleged copyright violations by Germany's former defense minister in exchange for a €20,000 ($27,000) fine — a decision that may clear the way for his eventual political comeback.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a former rising star in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc, resigned in March after it emerged he had copied large parts of his doctoral thesis without attribution.

Prosecutors in Hof said they received 199 complaints alleging unauthorized use of copyrighted works, but only one of those came from someone claiming their own copyright was violated.

They said, while an examination of the dissertation turned up 23 passages in which copyright material was violated, they had concluded the economic damage to copyright holders was "only marginal." They also said Guttenberg himself derived no economic benefit from his thesis.

Guttenberg paid €20,000 to a charity helping children with cancer.

Guttenberg, who has vehemently denied cheating but admitted making "grave mistakes" with the thesis, quit days after Bayreuth University revoked his doctoral title. It said he had violated academic standards by failing to sufficiently credit some of his sources.

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Guttenberg kept a low profile after his resignation but recently has re-emerged in public. That has fueled speculation the 39-year-old, who long ranked as Germany's most popular politician, will relaunch his political career.

A U.S. think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recruited him in September to lead a new trans-Atlantic dialogue initiative. Last weekend, he appeared at a security conference in Canada that was covered extensively by German media.

It is common in Germany for investigations to be closed in exchange for payment when prosecutors conclude there isn't enough evidence for charges.

Prosecutors said they also found no evidence that Guttenberg criminally abused his doctoral title or engaged in fraud or breach of trust by using the German Parliament's research service.

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