South Korea Govt Talks to Top Hwang Associate on Stem Cell Research Fraud

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 7, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Korea Govt Talks to Top Hwang Associate on Stem Cell Research Fraud Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 7, 2006

Washington, DC ( — South Korean officials looking into the mismanagement and embezzlement of funds given to Hwang Woo-suk’s science team have interviewed one of Hwang’s top associates. The expectation is that Hwang will be next to be interrogated.

Prosecutors questioned Hwang’s former top associate Roh Sung-il. Roh was one of the scientists who helped expose the fraudulent embryonic stem cell research when he told the media that claims of cloning patient-specific embryonic stem cells were bogus.

Roh is also the chairman of MizMedi hospital, which provided human eggs for Hwang’s team’s research. The team came under fire when Roh admitted many women were paid for their eggs, a breach of ethics.

Officials asked Roh about his involvement with researcher Kim Sun-jong, who Hwang claims conspired with Roh to sabotage his research. Hwang alleges the two substituted non-cloned cells in place of the cloned cells he says his team supposedly created.

Roh and Kim have been in touch numerous times since the beginning of the scandal last November, but Hwang has come under fire for allegedly trying to bribe Kim to recant his confession to the media that the embryonic stem cell research was faked.

The Korea Herald reports that Hwang himself will be the next to speak with government officials.

Professor Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, the only foreign scientist involved in the two discredited papers the team published, has not responded to questions from South Korean officials.

The prosecution recently received information from the Board of Audit showing Hwang’s team embezzled government funds and mismanaged public donations over the last few years.

"If Hwang is found to have embezzled government funds, he will be immediately charged on such accounts, but as for civilian funds it’s hard to apply embezzlement charges, so we will have to establish that after investigating the fraud," a prosecutor told the Herald.

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.