SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean prosecutors found no evidence that disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk created cloned embryonic stem cells that matched patients, a report said Wednesday, corroborating the results of an investigation by his university.
It was unclear whether the finding meant that Hwang could face criminal charges. The scientist has accused his colleagues of deceiving him, repeating an earlier claim that some of the cloned embryonic stem cells at his lab had been switched without his knowledge.
Prosecutors have been looking into the scandal since Seoul National University said earlier this month that Hwang's purported human cloning breakthroughs were fraudulent.
Investigators commissioned DNA tests on 99 stem cells from Hwang's team and his partner research hospital, but none of them were found to match patients, Yonhap news agency said.
"The test result was the same as the outcome of the test by Seoul National University's investigation panel," a prosecutor was quoted as saying.
Prosecutors did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Prosecutors are investigating Hwang's claims that his team created the world's first cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells from them, including those genetically matched to patients. The claims were published in two papers in 2004 and 2005 in the international journal Science.
Separately, South Korea's state auditor has also been looking into whether Hwang misappropriated research funds provided by the government.
As of the end of last year, Hwang received $42.2 million in government funds for his research as well as $4.35 million from private foundations, according to the Board of Audit and Inspection.
Earlier this week, a presidential aide resigned over the scandal. Park Ky-young, presidential secretary for science and technology affairs, was one of the co-authors of Hwang's 2004 paper, in which he claimed to have created the world's first cloned human embryo and culled stem cells from it.
Hwang's claim of a cloning breakthrough had offered hope to millions suffering from paralysis and debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.