South Korean prosecutors yesterday indicted disgraced cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk for alleged fraud, embezzlement and violation of bioethics law in a scandal over faked stem cell research.
Prosecution official Lee In-kyu announced the indictments of Hwang and five members of his research team during a nationally televised news conference. Lee said prosecutors had decided not to take them into custody. He did not elaborate.
Hwang -- once hailed as a stem cell pioneer and treated as a national hero -- was fired March from his post as a professor at Seoul National University's veterinary department after admitting he fabricated data in two high-profile papers published in academic journals in 2004 and last year.
His now-discredited claims of breakthroughs in cloning and stem cells had offered hope of new treatments for millions of patients suffering from paralysis and debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Hwang was charged yesterday with fraud for accepting 2 billion won (US$2.1 million) in private donations based on the outcome of the falsified research, Lee said. Hwang also embezzled about 800 million won (US$856,000) in private and government research funds, the official said.
Hwang also paid money to receive human eggs for research, a violation of the country's bioethics law, Lee said.
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.
Hwang was unreachable for comment. The office of Hwang's attorney Lee Geon-haeng said Lee did not come to his office yesterday. A call to his cellphone was answered by a recording saying it was switched off.
Of the five researchers, one was indicted for obstruction of duty, three for fraud and one for violation of the bioethics law.
In February, the Board of Audit and Inspection said it was unclear how Hwang spent the 2.5 billion won (US$2.6 million) he received in government funds and private donations for his research.
Through last year, Hwang received 30.9 billion won (US$33 million) in government funds for his research as well as 6 billion won (US$6.4 million) in private donations, the audit board said.
Prosecutors yesterday also backed up earlier findings by Seoul National University that Hwang's research team had not created the world's first cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells from them, including those genetically matched to patients, as they had claimed.