Friday, May 12, 2006

Hwang Woo-Suk and five associates indicted by Korean prosecutors

Consistent with a statement made on April 14, Korean prosecutors have indicted Hwang Woo-Suk.

According to an AP report: Hwang was charged with fraud for accepting 2 billion won (US$2.1 million; euro1.7 million) in private donations based on the outcome of the falsified research. Hwang also embezzled about 800 million won (US$856,000; euro667,000) in private and government research funds. Hwang also paid money to receive human eggs for research, a violation of the country's bioethics law, Lee said. [IPBiz: In his 2005 paper in Science, Hwang stated compliance with the bioethics law.]

Hwang was NOT CHARGED with publishing false information. Prosecutors said Hwang falsified his research papers, but decided not to charge him for that, because "there has been no precedent in the world" of bringing criminal charges for fabricating academic papers. Business as usual in the academic world?

Hwang was not the only person indicted. Prosecution official Lee In-kyu announced the indictments of Hwang and five members of his research team during a nationally televised news conference on May 12, 2006.

There was more than one fraud going on. prosecutors said they accepted one key argument Hwang has used in his defense: that some of his now-discredited claims were due to a junior researcher deceiving him into believing his lab successfully created patient-specific stem cells from cloned embryos.

Different charges were brought. Of the five researchers, one was indicted for tampering with research samples, three for fraud and one for violation of the bioethics law.

Prosecutors said Hwang faked the two research papers, but they did not draw a clear conclusion on whether he ever created a cloned human embryo and extracted a stem cell from it as reported in the 2004 paper.

Seoul National University, where Hwang worked as a professor, has said Hwang's purported first cloned embryonic stem cell, reported in the 2004 paper, could have merely been from a mutated egg, which could appear to have qualities of a cloned embryo. [IPBiz: Science retracted the 2004 paper (and the 2005 paper).]

Junior researcher wanted to succeed?

Kim Sun-jong, who was indicted for tampering, brought ordinary stem cells - created from fertilized eggs, not from cloned embryos - to the lab to make them look like patient-specific stem cells, prosecution official Lee said.

Kim, a specialist in cultivating embryos, committed the wrongdoing "under psychological pressure" to accomplish his duties and "out of desire to succeed as a scholar," Lee said.

That made Hwang believe that he had succeeded in creating patient-specific stem cells, Lee said. Based on those wrong samples, Hwang carried out further fabrication of data to write the 2005 paper, Lee said. It was unclear when Hwang became aware he had been deceived.

Outside the prosecutors' office in southern Seoul, about two dozen people staged a rally in support of Hwang, calling for him to continue his research.


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