South Korea Probe: Hwang Woo-Suk Embezzled Stem Cell Research Money

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 6, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Korea Probe: Hwang Woo-Suk Embezzled Stem Cell Research Money

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 6, 2006

Seoul, South Korea ( — Officials from the South Korean government who have been looking into the fraudulent embryonic stem cell research work of Hwang Woo-suk’s team have found that he embezzled government funds and mismanaged public donations over the last few years.

The South Korean Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) release its report on Monday after a three week investigation.

"The cloning expert has been given a total of 24.6 billion won ($25.36 million U.S.) in state and private research donations so far," the report said. "It includes 18.6 billion won ($19.1 million U.S.) in government funds and 6 billion won (6.18 million dollars) in civilian funds."

However, just $16.9 million was spent over the past five years in compliance with BAI guidelines.

Investigators said Hwang embezzled as much as $2.57 million of both the taxpayer funds and private donations and can’t account for $6.4 million of the money. They indicated he managed most of the money through various personal bank accounts and he could not account for where it all went.

From April 2004 to April 2005, Hwang transferred at least $206,000 in government funds from those accounts to a private account and put over $700,000 in private donations into a private account that he withdrew as cash last year, BAI reported.

The BAI investigators also found Hwang’s team did not report all of its private donations to Seoul National University, where their research labs were based. University rules require receiving permission before private donations are accepted or spent.

According to the BAI report, some of the donations were even used to fund 10 politicians and paying for foreign professors to visit Hwang’s research lab.

"Hwang said he had donated part of the fund in cash to politicians but he said he could not remember exactly to whom and how much he gave," senior BAI official Eui-Myong Park told a press conference, according to an AFP news report.

"There was no way to verify its use," he said. "We are planning to refer all the data on what Hwang misappropriated or used for unclear purposes to the prosecution."

After government prosecutors review the case, Hwang and associates involved in the scandal could face jail time as a result.

The investigation came after SNU found Hwang’s team falsified all of its research in its claims to have cloned a human embryo and cloned patient-specific embryonic stem cells. The revelations are a major setback for embryonic stem cell research, which has still failed to overcome rejection issues from a patient’s immune system.

In January, the medical journal Science retracted the two papers touting the research.