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Top court backs sacking of stem cell scientist Hwang

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that Seoul National University’s dismissal of Hwang Woo-suk was justifiable, marking an end to a nine-year legal battle for the scientist whose fabrication of his stem cell research had tarnished his reputation.

The top court upended its original ruling in 2014 that the SNU ruling was fair as Hwang’s actions “eroded people’s trust in SNU and the entire science circle.”

In 2006, the SNU dismissed the veterinarian and cloning expert after he was found to have faked a large part of what was then considered to be groundbreaking work in stem cell research. The school said Hwang had damaged its reputation as well as that of the country, while violating his duties as an education civil worker.

Hwang filed a lawsuit to challenge the school’s decision, and while Seoul High Court sided with him in 2011, the top court ultimately upended his sacking in February 2014 and the case was sent back to the appellate court.

Although Seoul High Court ruled against Hwang in August 2014, Hwang challenged it again, leading to Wednesday’s ruling.

Hwang rose as an international pioneer in stem cell research in 2004 and 2005, after he claimed in a paper published in the journal Science to have created the world’s first cloned human embryos and that he extracted stem cells from them. He was touted as a national hero in Korea as his research was considered a breakthrough for disease treatment.

But after his research was found have been a sham, his paper was retracted, his license to carry out stem cell research was revoked and he was charged with fraud and embezzlement of state funds.

The Supreme Court in 2014 sentenced him to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, holding him guilty of illegally pocketing government research funds and illegally buying human eggs.


By Yoon Min-sik
(minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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