Prosecutors Grill Hwang Over Stem-Cell Fraud

Prosecutors questioned disgraced cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk Thursday over the scandal surrounding faked stem cell research that dashed worldwide hopes of imminent cures for disease.

It was the first time Hwang has appeared in public in nearly two months, and first time he has been questioned by prosecutors since revelations that his scientific papers that drew international acclaim were based on forged data.

Appearing tight-lipped and tense, Hwang declined comment to reporters upon entering Seoul prosecutors' offices.

Hwang was among four key people involved in the research being questioned Thursday, including Kim Seon-jong, who has claimed that Hwang ordered him to fake data.

Hwang denies the allegation, and has accused Kim of deceiving him by giving falsified research results.

It isn't yet known if Hwang or any others involved in the work could face criminal charges.

A government audit board said last month Hwang was suspected of misusing government funds.

Through last year, Hwang received $32 million in government funds for his research as well as $6 million in private donations, the Board of Audit and Inspection said. The board said it is unclear where $2.5 million was spent.

Once hailed as a pioneer in stem cell research, Hwang has already been questioned by the audit board and his own university. The university found that his claims made in key research papers published in 2004 and 2005 in the international journal Science were based on fabricated evidence.

The papers had claimed to prove the world's first cloned human embryo and the efficient cloning of stem cells matched to patients, raising hopes the research could lead to cures for hard-to-treat diseases.

Experts believe stem cells could be grown to replace damaged body tissue that would be genetically matched to patients, reducing chances of rejection.