South Korea's top university has 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.
"I, as the president of the university, sincerely apologize to the public," Chung Un-chan, the head of the state-run Seoul National University, told a nationally televised news conference.
He called Hwang's fraud "an unwashable blemish on the whole scientific community as well as our country" and a "criminal act in academia."
The apology came a day after a university 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.
Chung said he would seek punishment for Hwang and other researchers on his team.
"I will deal with the situation strictly," he said.
The South Korean government has said it will withdraw Hwang's "top scientist" title - an honor created especially for him in the wake of his purported breakthroughs.
Hwang's research had raised hopes for using stem cells to develop new treatments of diseases from Alzheimer's to diabetes.
The government said it would launch an audit of national funds provided for Hwang's research.
"An unwashable blemish on the whole scientific community as well as our country"
Chung Un-chan, head of Seoul National University
In 2005, he was granted up to $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.
Tuesday's final report by the university investigative panel concluded that Hwang and his research team "did not have any proof to show that cloned embryonic stem cells were ever created."
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.
Last month, a devastating report by the university concluded that Hwang fabricated another article published in Science last year claiming to have produced 11 stem cell lines genetically matched to patients.
Die-hard supporters say Hwang
is a national hero
Hwang has made no public appearances since last month, when he said he would resign his faculty position.
The university says he has yet to formally offer to step down and his whereabouts are unknown.
Hwang was once dubbed "The Pride of Korea" for his purported research breakthroughs, including the creation of the world's first cloned dog last year.
The university on Tuesday upheld that the claim about the cloned dog.
That achievement was not regarded as important as the cloning of human embryos, however, because various animals had already been cloned.