S. Korean scientist pressed on cloning

/ Source: Reuters

South Korean prosecutors finished questioning a disgraced stem cell scientist on Tuesday, asking him in court if he had receipts for his team's successful cloning of a dog and failed attempt to clone a mammoth.

The trial of Hwang Woo-suk, once regarded as a hero in South Korea for bringing the country to the forefront of stem cell research, started in June and is nearing its final stages.

Hwang is charged with embezzlement, misusing state funds and violating the country's bioethics laws for suspected illegal purchases of human ova. If convicted, he could spend several years in jail.

Hwang appeared on the stand for about 30 minutes and answered questions about the millions of dollars his team received.

Hwang said he did not have documents to prove how all of his research grants were used to produce the world's first cloned dog — an Afghan hound named Snuppy — but said some of the money was used to purchase dogs from dealers.

Hwang said part of the money his team received from a major South Korean electronics firm was used in an attempt to clone extinct mammoths.

"But I don't have any data that can prove it," Hwang said adding he worked with about 55 others on the project.

In previous testimony, Hwang said some money might have made its way to the Russian mafia in an attempt to obtain biological material that could be used for the cloning.

Hwang's work had once raised hopes because it seemed to fulfil a promise of embryonic stem cell studies where tissue could be grown to repair damaged bodies and cure illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and severe spinal cord injuries.

An investigation panel at Seoul National University, where Hwang once worked, said his team intentionally fabricated key data on two acclaimed papers on embryonic stem cells that have since been debunked and retracted.

Hwang, who has apologised for fraud in his team's work, has denied any wrongdoing and said he was duped by junior researchers into believing the landmark results.

The next hearing in his case is set for Dec. 12.