South Korea Seeks Prison Term for Stem Cell Research Fraud Hwang Woo-suk

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 24, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Korea Seeks Prison Term for Stem Cell Research Fraud Hwang Woo-suk

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 24
, 2009

Seoul, South Korea ( — South Korea officials told a court on Monday that they want disgraced embryonic stem cell research scientist Hwang Woo-suk to face four years for allegedly engaging in fraud. Hwang became an international embarrassment after he admitted to faking supposed advances in the science that involves the destruction of human life.

In the studies his team conducted, Hwang claimed to have created the first cloned human embryo and claimed to have created patient-matched embryonic stem cells that would overcome immune system rejection issues.

Those would have been big advances since embryonic stem cells have yet to help a single human patient and have encountered numerous problems when used in animals.

Hwang and some of his top colleagues were indicted in May 2006 by South Korean prosecutors and charged with fraud, embezzlement and violating bioethics rules. He faces potential jail time as a result of allegations of widespread embezzlement of $2.8 million in public research funds.

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.

Prosecutors said Hwang brought shame to the country and harm to scientific research in South Korea, according to a Reuters report.

"The disappointment felt by the (Korean) people is enormous," one prosecutor told the court.

Hwang’s attorneys told the court that junior scientists on his team were responsible for the fraud in both the scientific research and use of funds.

"These people, including the prosecutors are trying to tear apart Hwang’s precious scientific evidence," Lee Bong-gu, a lawyer for Hwang, said, according to Reuters.

The trial has lasted for three years as the court has met monthly and spends much of its time hearing from scientists with very technical testimony. The proceedings could continue on a fourth year before a decision is reached.

In the meantime, Hwang relied on major backing from his large cadre of supporters in South Korea to fund the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in 2006, which specializes in animal cloning and has produced cloned dogs.

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