01/11/2006, 00.00
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Prosecutors hit out at Hwang over use of public funds

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young

Seoul's prosecutors have announced an inquiry which will shed light on the use of public funds and violations of the national bioethics law. The researcher has all but disappeared.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – South Korean prosecutors have announced the opening of an inquiry into the use of public funds and violation of national bioethics laws by "human cloning pioneer", Prof.  Hwang Woo-souk, while he was carrying out his research.

The prosecutors revealed their decision yesterday after hearing the findings of an inquiry ordered by the National University of Seoul into this research, which proved the researcher's claims about his achievements in stem-cell cloning to be completely false.

As "Supreme Scientist" of the nation, Hwang received more than three billion won (24 million US dollars) from the state as "annual funds for research" from 1997 to 2005. The South Korean Health Minister has allocated 9.5 million dollars to Dr Hwang since 2003 and the Seoul National University was to spend six million dollars to build a "world stem cell hub" to be led by Dr Hwang.

In June, the Ministry of Science and Technology had announced plans to invest 15 billion won into Hwang's work over five years; the decision has now been revoked.

Seoul had assigned a diplomat to assist the researcher with contacts with overseas press and Korean Air had given him and his wife first-class seats free-of-charge for a decade.

The country's Criminal Code stipulates that the researcher will be liable to give an account of expenses sustained: in the event that corruption or squandering of public money is proved, the vet risks up to 10 years in prison.

However, the inquiry will not be limited to use of state funds: prosecutors are also investigating possible violations of national bioethics legislation, the Bioethics and Safety Law, by Hwang.

The law, approved in 2004 after years of debate, is the first South Korean decree regulating scientific research and bioethics. The decree provided for the setting up of a National Bioethics Council which is mandated to deliberate controversial cases of scientific research. The law came into force on 1 January 2005 in the wake of pressure from the entire international scientific community. However, 11 days later, the positive recommendation of the Council allowed Hwang to return to work.

In particular, Article 22 of the law, while prohibiting human cloning in principle, allows it for so-called "therapeutic" purposes. Fr Dominic Woo Jae-myung, lecturer in moral theology at Sogan University, had told AsiaNews: "But what is worrying is that an embryo created for scientific research is identical as that used to clone a person. An embryo cloned for research, if planted inside a uterus, becomes a cloned child."

According to data presented by the inquiry, the team used 2,061 human eggs taken from or bought from 129 women in the period between November 2002 and November 2005. Hwang himself admitted that "donors" included two collaborators on his staff.

The "cloning pioneer" claims that he used 185 eggs to produce 11 stem cell lines "to measure"; it was this achievement which shook the entire world but the nine-member university committee conducting the inquiry found that at least 273 had been used. They showed lab records as proof of the discrepancy in numbers.

The researcher has not appeared in public since handing in his resignation on 24 November.

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See also
The Hwang case, researcher did not give eggs freely
S Korean scientist apologises for "research fraud"
Korea, national panel proves stem cell research is a "scientific fraud"
Hwang defends himself: I did not lie
Tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang rise as Cold War fears cast a shadow over Korea
12/02/2016 15:14


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