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Disgraced Korean scientist faces four years in prison

1 September 2009
Appeared in BioNews 523

Disgraced South Korean stem cell scientist, Hwang Woo-Suk found last Monday that he faces a possible four year jail term for alleged embezzlement, and the violation of South Korean bioethics laws. Hwang, once a leading scientist at Seoul National University (SNU) in the field of stem cell research, scandalised the Korean and international scientific community when it was discovered that his so-called pioneering work was, in fact, a fraud.

In 2004 and 2005 Hwang published papers in the journal Science claiming to have produced the world's first cloned human embryonic stem cell line and further that he and his team had succeeded in creating 11 other stem cell-lines from cloned embryos. SNU was forced to investigate these research claims after suspicions were raised by scientists in the field and both claims were found to be false.

Hwang was subsequently fired from his post as professor at SNU, banned from undertaking further research in human stem-cell research and indicted in March 2006. It is alleged that Hwang embezzled at least 800 million won from government grants (then worth about $2.1 million) and that he illegally paid junior members of his female staff to donate their own eggs for his research.

In a hearing in July 2006, Hwang admitted that he fabricated data, but claimed that he was misled by younger researchers. He denies that he embezzled research funds, claiming that the money was properly used on the research it was applied for. Hwang has pleaded to the court for leniency, expressing that he wishes to devote his remaining time to research. Indeed, despite this scandal Hwang has continued work, successfully cloning a dog in 2005 (a result which was independently verified). In April this year the government conditionally lifted the ban preventing him from engaging in human stem cell research. Later, in June he was awarded the Jang Yeong-sil prize for Scientist of the Year.

The court is expected to deliver a ruling on 19 October 2009.

4-year jail sentence demanded on Hwang
Korea Herald |  28 August 2009
4-Year Jail Term Sought for Stem Cell Fraud
Korea Times |  24 August 2009
Disgraced South Korean Cloning Scientist May Face Jail Time
Discover Magazine |  24 August 2009
SKorea seeks jail for disgraced cloning scientist
Associated Press |  24 August 2009
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