Official apologizes over South Korean scientist's fake claims brought

South Korea's top university on Wednesday apologized for the scandal over Hwang Woo-suk's faked stem cell research, calling it a blemish on the country that embraced him as a national hero.

The government said it would withdraw Hwang's "top scientist" title - an honor created especially for him in the wake of purported breakthroughs that raised hopes for using stem cells to develop new treatments of diseases from Alzheimer's to diabetes.

Seoul National University's apology came a day after its investigative panel confirmed that Hwang faked all of his human stem cell research, including his landmark 2004 claim in the journal Science that he cloned a human embryo and extracted stem cells from it.

"I, as the president of the university, sincerely apologize to the public," Chung Un-chan, the head of the state-run institution, told.

He called Hwang's fraud "an unwashable blemish on the whole scientific community as well as our country" and a "criminal act in academia."

Chung said he would seek punishment for Hwang, professor of veterinary medicine at the university, and other researchers on his team.

Hwang, who has made no public appearances since last month after he offered to resign his faculty position, plans to hold a press conference Thursday, according to the Korea Press Foundation. The university says he has yet to formally offer to step down. His whereabouts are unknown.

The government said it would launch an audit of national funds provided for Hwang's research. Last year, he was granted as much as US$3 million in annual funding for five years.

Media reports have said prosecutors are likely to investigate possible misappropriation of government money used in his research.

The university cast doubt on Hwang's claim to have cloned a human embryo as reported in the 2004 paper, saying there was a high possibility it could have merely been a mutated egg, which could appear to have similar qualities of an embryo, the AP reports.

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