By Lee Tae-hoon
State auditors said Monday that they had found mishandling of government funds in technology research, and questioned the fairness in the selection of projects and researchers as well as the provision of funding.
According to the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI), the Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technology (KEIT) provided funds for irrelevant expenditures and expenses claimed for certain projects.
It said the KEIT overlooked or failed to notice that 16 research organizations sought duplicate reimbursements for expenses of 656 million won ($581,000) that had already been approved for similar projects.
The institute also reimbursed the 21.6 million won that a research firm spent for general expenses, irrelevant to the proposed development of a modular device.
The BAI recommended that KEIT President Suh Young-ju retrieve all state funds that the 16 research bodies received based on bogus claims and ban them from participating in government-initiated projects in the future.
Auditors also found that a professor, who won a state-fund for a nanotechnology research, spent 28 million of the budget for personal use.
They notified the misuse of the funding to the university where he teaches and told KEIT to file a lawsuit against him with the authorities on charges of embezzlement.
The BAI also slapped the institute for granting funds without thoroughly checking the financial status of research institutions, saying such a loophole could result in flawed or substandard research.
It pointed out that the KEIT gave 640 million won to an auto parts research center despite its debt ratio of 6,142 percent, and 1.23 billion won to a pipe research firm, which was insolvent.
The two research bodies forged documents so that their debt ratios would appear to be less than 250 percent on paper, more than two times lower than the KEIT's maximum debt ratio of 500 percent for screening applications.
The BAI also found that as of last December, individual researchers filed or received 16 patents based on their state-funded research, though the government retains the rights to all patents resulting from its funding.
It plans to retrieve the rights and return them to concerned government offices.