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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Schroeder Adopts St. Petersburg Girl

APGerhard Schroeder and his wife, Doris Schroeder-Koepf, at a Berlin horse track last year.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his wife, Doris Schroeder-Koepf, have adopted a 3-year-old girl from St. Petersburg.

Germany's first couple adopted the girl, Viktoria, several weeks ago from an orphanage in President Vladimir Putin's hometown, and the girl is living with the family at their home in Hannover, German newspapers Bild and Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Tuesday.

Wolfgang Juettner, the Social Democratic Party leader in Schroeder's home state of Lower Saxony, confirmed the adoption Tuesday, saying that during a recent visit to the Schroeder home in Hannover the couple introduced the girl to him as an adopted daughter, The Associated Press reported.

Schroeder informed President Vladimir Putin of his intention to adopt a Russian child, Interfax reported Tuesday, citing an unidentified Kremlin official.

The German chancellor and Putin, a fluent German speaker thanks to days as a KGB agent in East Germany, have built a close relationship since Putin came to power.

Interestingly, the Kremlin official stressed that Schroeder and his wife had not been given any special treatment in adopting the girl.

"The decision was made fully in line with Russian law and based on the decision of a Russian court," the official told Interfax, adding that Schroeder-Koepf personally was present in court when the adoption was granted.

A spokesman for the Schroeder government declined to comment Tuesday.

"As a rule we will not comment on the chancellor's private life," the spokesman said by telephone from Berlin.

It was unclear when Viktoria was adopted.

Schroeder's last official visit to Russia was on July 8, when he arrived with about 30 executives from Lufthansa, Deutsche Bank, Siemens and other leading German companies to announce bilateral business deals worth 6 billion euros ($7.4 billion).

Bild reported that Schroeder and his wife took Viktoria home from the St. Petersburg orphanage "a few weeks ago," and that they kept the adoption so quiet that government bodyguards found out only shortly before flying back to Germany that they were taking the child with them.

The newspaper said Schroeder-Koepf had taken an interest in the plight of orphans in St. Petersburg and suggested that this interest may have influenced the decision to adopt.

Only 15,000 of the 170,000 children eligible for adoption each year are placed in families, Galina Trostanetskaya, head of the Education and Science Ministry's child social welfare department, said in an interview earlier this year. She said about half of those who are adopted go to foreign parents.

About 700,000 children under the age of 16 currently live in orphanages around the country, Trostanetskaya said.

All foreign adoptions of children in St. Petersburg are processed by the city's registry office, or ZAGS, and require permission from the city court in the child's district of residence, a legal foreign passport and proof of marriage between the two adoptive parents, according to the St. Petersburg administration's web site.

A woman who picked up the phone at the ZAGS office Tuesday could not confirm the Schr?der adoption. She said the official in charge of adoptions was on vacation.

Under Russian law, it is illegal to disclose adoption information without the authorization of the adoptive parents.

Schroeder, who has divorced three times, has no children of his own. Schroeder-Koepf has a 13-year-old daughter, Klara, from a previous marriage.

Schroeder caused a stir in Germany in 1997 when he married Koepf, a former Bild journalist, less than a month after divorcing his third wife, Hiltrud.

Asked about the divorce and quick marriage, Schroeder reportedly said, "It is proof of my earnestness."

He also has reportedly joked to Schroeder-Koepf that he changes wives every 12 years.

But Bild, Germany's most popular paper and in many ways similar to the sensational daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, pointed out Tuesday that Schroeder-Koepf has had a strong influence on her husband's domestic life.

"It's also well-known that the chancellor's wife is very family-oriented," Bild said. "She has taught the chancellor to greatly appreciate family life. He has long been a loving father to Klara. He talks with her and his wife regularly by cellphone."

The newspaper concluded that "little Viktoria from distant Russia will receive much love from the Schroeder family."