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S Korean stem cell scientist Hwang questioned again

Written by: Staff
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SEOUL, March 3 (Reuters) South Korean prosecutors grilled disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk for a second day today in an investigation into suspected criminal fraud over debunked papers on embryonic stem cells.

Prosecutors questioned Hwang and three other researchers for more than 10 hours yesterday. It was the first time Hwang had appeared for questioning since prosecutors started their investigation in January.

A Seoul National University investigation panel said in January Hwang's team had intentionally fabricated data in two landmark studies on human embryonic stem cells. He resigned his post at the university in December.

Hwang has not spoken to the dozens of reporters staking out the prosecutors' office.

Three other researchers were questioned at the same time as Hwang. South Korean media said prosecutors called all four in at the same time to go back and forth among them in order to work out details of the case.

''We have summoned Hwang and three other researchers again, and they came in this morning at about 9,'' said Lee Lim-kyu, a prosecutor working on the case. Lee would not comment on the details of the questioning.

Prosecutors are investigating Hwang and his team on suspicion of fraudulent use of state funds, which is punishable by up to 10 years in jail, as well as violating bioethics laws to procure human eggs for their studies.

Hwang's team received 41.7 billion won (43.05 million dollars) in state funds from 1995 to 2005, the Board of Audit and Inspection has said, adding there were accounting holes in the records kept by Hwang and his team for the use of the money.

Hwang has said he is a victim of a conspiracy to defame him and laid the blame for fraudulent data at the feet of junior researchers who were working for a fertility clinic.

Hwang's research had raised hopes because it seemed to hasten the day when genetically specific tissue could be grown from embryonic stem cells to repair damaged organs or treat diseases such as Parkinson's.

Reuters PR GC0909

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