10/25/2006, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Hwang bought mammoth tissue from Russian mafia with state funds

The defence of Hwang Woo-suk, who falsely claimed that he had cloned stem cells, started yesterday in his trial for misappropriation of state and private funds. The vet admitted that the mafia helped him in his experiments but did not explain how.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The disgraced "cloning pioneer", South Korean vet, Hwang Woo-suk, yesterday admitted that he had used government funds to pay Russian mafia for tissue samples from mammoths, prehistoric animals that have been extinct for millions of years. The scientist made the claims at his trial, which is being held in Seoul.

In the courtroom yesterday – when his defence was due to start – the scientist said he paid Russian mafia for tissue samples from mammoths in a bid to clone them. The experiment was repeated three times, but failed. Hwang said some governments research funds "were used for expenses while in touch with the mafia in Russia", without explaining how the mafia had helped him obtain the samples of animal tissue.

The vet, who was once a "national hero", fell into disgrace after the international scientific community and the capital's university revealed that results of his research on embryonic stem cells were fabricated in the laboratory to give the impression that he had managed to clone healthy cells from sick people stricken by diseases for which no cure is currently available.

Hwang used to be considered one of the foremost scientists in the world in the genetic field. The results of his research were published in 2004 and 2005 in two issues of the major US scientific journal Science in which the researcher claimed he had created stem cell lines with the cloning of human embryos.

However, Science withdrew both articles after the Seoul National University (SNU) revealed his studies were faked and stem cells had not been created genetically but had come from donor eggs.

Since May, Hwang has been on trial for misappropriation of state and private funds worth an estimated 2.8 billion won (around 2.5 million euros) and for buying the eggs needed for his experiments, a practice forbidden by the country's bioethics law. Consequently, the government withdrew the researcher's license. If guilty, he faces up to three years in jail.

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