Opposition parties on Wednesday ratcheted up pressure on President Moon Jae-in to cancel his appointment of a senior science innovation official who was mired in a 2005 stem cell research fraud scandal.
On Monday, Moon appointed Park Ky-young to lead the Science, Technology and Innovation Office at the Ministry of Science and ICT, triggering searing criticism from scientists, politicians and civic groups that called her unfit for the post billed as a science policy control tower.
Park, a biology professor at Sunchon National University, served as a senior advisor to former President Roh Moo-hyun for some two years until 2006 when she resigned over a shocking revelation that Hwang Woo-suk, the country's leading stem cell scientist, fabricated his 2004 research paper.
This photo, taken on Aug. 8, 2017, shows Lee Yong-ho, policy chief of the minor opposition People`s Party, speaking during a party meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)
Park was a co-author on the paper, a fact that sparked calls to accept moral responsibility for the scandal. A Seoul university panel found that Hwang used forged data for the paper to claim to have created the world's first cloned human embryo.
"The newly established science office is a control tower that handles an annual budget of some 20 trillion won ($17 billion)... Putting Park, involved in the unprecedented scandal, in the post is like allowing a cat to take care of fish," Lee Yong-ho, policy chief of the minor opposition People's Party, said during a party meeting.
"If the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae really wants to carry out science and technology innovation, it should cancel the appointment," he added.
Khang Hyo-shang, the spokesman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, voiced concerns that Moon's latest appointment could be seen as the government overlooking past research fraud.
"Putting this person in a high-level post could give the wrong signal to the science communities at home and abroad that the government would overlook past fraud," he told Yonhap News Agency over the phone.
Joo Ho-young, the floor leader of the minor Bareun Party, echoed Lee's view, criticizing Moon's disputed personnel selection style.
"Park is partially responsible for the Hwang scandal given that she lost the opportunity to take care of it (at the time)," Joo said during a meeting with senior party members. "Even, some from the (ruling) liberal camp call the appointment wrong."
The ruling Democratic Party appeared disconcerted amid the controversy over Park, concerned that it could hamper legislative efforts to support Moon's reform initiatives during the regular parliamentary session slated to begin next month.
A day earlier, the Korean Union of Public Sector Research and Professional Workers published a statement demanding Moon retract the appointment.
"The appointment of Park is an affront to Korea's science community and means that (the government) has given up reform of the science sector," it said. (Yonhap)