Disgraced stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk was convicted Monday of embezzling state and private funds and illegally buying human eggs for his research, but was cleared of fraud charges.
The Seoul Central District Court gave the 56-year-old scientist a two-year prison sentence suspended for three years, ending a three-year, four-month saga that dates back to his indictment in 2006.
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Hwang reported false breakthroughs in human stem cell research and had them published in the journal Science and other global research magazines in 2004 and 2005.
However, when it was revealed by a Korean research team that he had fabricated the experimental results, Korea's reputation as a leading scientific country in stem cell research was literally "devastated."
The journal, Science, retracted his papers following the finding and still remains cautious of publishing papers by Korean scientists.
Prosecutors didn't try to penalize Hwang for his test fabrications, leaving that to the discretion of the science community.
The prosecution sought a four-year jail term, but Presiding Judge Bae Ki-ryul reduced it, citing Hwang's dedication to the development of Korea's biotechnology, his lack of a criminal record and deep remorse.
From the Korea Herald:
The prosecution and the court, however, decided that the scientific authenticity of Hwang's papers was to be judged by scientific circles and not by the court.
The scientist was also declared guilty of embezzling part of the money for personal use and illegal egg cell-trading by using borrowed name accounts, said the court.
"Despite his purposes, which may have been purely scientific, Hwang is still guilty of embezzling 830 million won through forged documents and illicitly trafficking human egg-cells," said the presiding judge.
The court nevertheless suspended the scientist's sentence, considering that he used the money for scientific deeds and not for personal use.
Among his research colleagues, Kim Seon-jong was given a suspended 2-year sentence, while Lee Byung-cheon and Kang Sung-keun received fines of 30 million won and 10 million won respectively, according to court officials.
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