by Steven Ertelt
March 27, 2006
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — A new book written by a former reporter for a South Korean newspaper presents an insiders view into the events leading up to the international scandal involving fraudulent embryonic stem cell research. The author says Hwang Woo-suk gave members of the media financial and other favors to receive favorable press coverage about his team’s research.
Lee Sung-joo, who worked at the Donga Ilbo newspaper for 13 years and was the lead medical news reporter from 1997 through 2004, has written a book titled The Country of Hwang Woo-seok.
Lee says South Korean media outlets neglected their duty to report facts and information that could have uncovered the scandal much earlier.
He indicated that Hwang frequently tried to buy dinner for reporters or provide them with other financial favors.
"One day, my colleagues and I had dinner with Hwang after he was awarded ‘the figure of 2004’ by Donga Ilbo," he told the OhMyNews web site in an interview. "Hwang told us that he had to leave because of an urgent appointment and gave us his credit card to pay the bill."
Lee said he worries now about what would have happened had he used the credit card since Hwang is under investigation by the South Korean government for allegedly embezzling as much as $6 million in public funds and private donations for the faked research.
"Fortunately, we declined his offer, but you know if we had received it…what would happen to us now," Lee told OhMyNews.
Lee also learned that Hwang allowed one reported to frequently borrow his credit card to run up expensive tabs at fancy bars and restaurants.
In one of the more damaging accusations, Lee says Hwang gave away paid "scholarships" to reporters for positive news coverage of his research.
According to Lee, there were several reporters loyal to him who were awarded the "Hwang Woo-seok Scholarship" at Yonhap News Agency, Kyunghyang Newspaper, Chosun Ilbo and KBS broadcasting company.
Lee told OhMyNews that several reporters frequently acted as press release agents for Hwang.
Lee also related the story of another dinner in April 2004 in which Hwang met with producers from two television stations to request favorable news coverage about Lee Ki-jun, then-President of Seoul National University. Hwang indicated he already received promises from two newspaper editors for positive coverage.
"According to a producer who attended the dinner, Dr. Hwang was quite pretentious about his privileges," Lee said. "He said that only the president of the university and he could use the VIP room in Dongwon Restaurant."
In his book, Lee also reports the behind-the-scenes story that the Ministry of Science and Technology of Korea refused to invite Pittsburgh University professor Gerald Schatten, Hwang’s top partner, to the First Symposium on Stem Cell Research in Seoul in 2004.
He said the scientists reviewed Schatten’s academic credentials and found him lacking. Schatten was finally invited through Hwang’s political influence.