New science office head says sorry, but will keep post

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New science office head says sorry, but will keep post

Park Ky-young, newly appointed head of the Science, Technology and Innovation Office at the Ministry of Science and ICT, apologized Thursday for her involvement in the Hwang Woo-suk scandal 11 years ago, but refused to step down.

Speaking before reporters at the Science and Technology Center in Seoul, Park issued her first apology in 11 years about the Hwang scandal that shocked the country in late 2005, when it was revealed that Hwang Woo-suk, a disgraced cloning expert who rose to stardom for his self-proclaimed breakthrough in stem cell research, had falsified his research and embezzled government research funds. Park had failed to vet Hwang’s research as the science policy adviser for the president, and she was one of the co-authors of Hwang’s fabricated paper. Park was also accused of helping Hwang receive massive government funds.

“I offer my apology today since I was a person in charge of science R&D at the Blue House when the Hwang scandal caused deep disappointment and shock to the nation as well as to the scientist community,” said the vice-ministerial official, who was appointed by President Moon Jae-in on Monday and began her work Wednesday.

But Park refused to resign despite growing protests not only from the opposition but also from civic groups and the scientific community, which cried foul over Park’s appointment, citing her role in abetting Hwang during the Roh Moo-hyun government.

Facing strong backlash, Park made clear her intention to overcome demands that she resign.

“If given an opportunity, I will repay my debt to the public with hard work,” said the science R&D office chief. “It has been my dream to establish the science and technology sector based on innovation. And my post here is my last opportunity to accomplish that.”

Park then asked people to forgive her misdeeds and give her an opportunity to serve the new post.

Regarding the continuing protests, the presidential office said on Thursday it was “sorry,” but reaffirmed its support for Park. Blue House spokesman Park Soo-hyun told reporters at a hastily arranged press briefing that Moon named Park because she led efforts to create the innovation office at the science ministry that she now heads, saying, “Though she has many shortcomings, we recognized she was the right person.”

Park, who taught biology at Sunchon National University before her appointment, served as the information, science and technology policy adviser at the Roh Blue House from 2004 to 2006. At the time, Moon was also working at the Roh Blue House as a senior presidential secretary. The Blue House said she was hired because of her expertise in overseeing research and development policy making.

While her position is vice-ministerial, she is entitled to attend cabinet meetings and oversees the national R&D project budget, which is worth 20 trillion won ($17.5 billion). She does not need parliamentary approval for her job.

“How can we give someone who caused serious harm to the science field such an important mission of controlling the state budget for future science R&D?” asked Liberty Korea Party party spokeswoman Jun Hee-kyung, who said if Park would step down if she had “an ounce of conscience.”

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