April 13, 2024


Disgraced stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk has told Korean state auditors that he used some of his funding to grease the palm of local politicians. Of the $38 million he received over the past five years, he cannot account for US$1 million of government money nor for $5.4 million in private donations “Hwang said he had donated part of the fund in cash to politicians but he said he could not remember exactly to whom and how much he gave,” one of the auditors told the media. Hwang apparently kept millions in nine private bank accounts from which he withdrew cash as needed. Some of the money went to government officials who had funded his work and some to members of his research team, perhaps as bribes to silence those who knew of his fabrications.

Hwang’s tame bioethicist has been caught up in the financial scandal, too. Presidential adviser for science and technology Park Ky-young, a botanist, has admitted that Hwang gave her $350,000 to study the social and ethical implications of her research, even though she was hardly an expert in bioethics. She was also listed as a co-author on Hwang’s 2004 cloning paper even though she had done nothing. The bioethical baksheesh may have helped to clinch government support for the cloning research.

And in the US, the media is asking whether a recent $16.1 million Federal grant to Hwang’s American colleague Gerald Schatten should be reviewed. The grant proposal for an ambitious stem cell project was based on Hwang’s fraudulent research. Schatten and his partners in the project described their own work as “heroic, demanding, yet feasible and essential” in documents obtained by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review under the Freedom of Information Act.