by Steven Ertelt
July 25, 2006
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — Disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, whose team became an international laughingstock after they faked their entirety of their embryonic stem cell research, appeared in court on Monday in a trial about charges that he embezzled public and private research funds. Hwang admitted he spent more than one million in attempting to clone a mammoth.
Hwang was indicted in May by South Korean government prosecutors who say that Hwang misspent public and private dollars intended for research.
On Monday, Hwang admitted he spent part of the money, some $1.05 million in failed attempts to clone mammoths, extinct members of the elephant family.
"We secured mammoth tissues from glaciers and tried cloning three times, but failed," Hwang said.
Hwang indicated South Korea’s powerful SK Group gave his research team the money and that it was intended for "peripheral activities related to the research."
A prosecutor asked Hwang if any of the money supposed to be used for research wound up in his personal bank accounts.
Hwang did not deny that this happened and said, "I did have the money managed separately."
According to a Reuters report, Hwang admitted that he used some of the money meant for research to clone tigers, pay for housing for a junior scientist, pay for a wedding for a colleague, and fund overseas trips for members of his research team.
He also indicated he deposited research funds into bank accounts under the names of colleagues and frequently withdrew large sums of money and put it in suitcases and took it o undisclosed locations.
"Some of it had to go to uses of a highly classified nature," he said, according to the Reuters report.
In February, South Korea’s Board of Audit and Inspection said millions of dollars were placed in Hwang’s personal bank account that should have been deposited for research.
Prosecutor Lee In-kyu also said Hwang embezzled $900,000 in private and government donations to the research. After getting more than $35 billion in research funds from the government and private donors, South Korean prosecutors say Hwang misused much of the money by laundering it through 63 bank accounts set up under false names.
Lee indicated Hwang’s team also paid for human eggs for research, which is a violation of the nation’s bioethics laws.
Hwang and his team "indelibly hurt the people as well as the families and patients of hard-to-cure diseases," Lee said. "Some scientists abused the people’s high expectations and a lack of peer reviews and disregarded ethics of research to attain their own goals."
During the Monday hearing, Hwang again apologized for the embryonic stem cell research fraud and again claimed he wasn’t totally to blame but was deceived by colleagues.
"I apologize 100 times over for the trouble (I) caused. But I was cheated and I cheated, and I am as sad about it as anyone," he said.
Though prosecutors accepted Hwang’s claim that his junior researchers misled him into thinking the stem cells had been cloned, Hwang "fabricated most of the data" to exaggerate his research team’s success.
Lee reconfirmed the results of a Seoul National University study that indicated all of Hwang’s team’s claims about human cloning and embryonic stem cell research successes were false.
Other researchers were charged with fraud and tampering with research samples, and another with bioethics violations. Neither Hwang nor the other researchers were arrested.
Hwang could face up to 10 years in jail for misusing government funds and another three years for violating bioethics laws about obtaining human eggs for research.
Hwang’s team published the results of the research in two papers in the scientific journal Nature, which has since revoked them after learning they were fraudulent.