By Yun Suh-young
Stem cell research company RNL Bio faced allegations Thursday that it "smuggled" stem cells and related equipment overseas.
According to multiple sources, the company sent 15.5 billion won worth of stem cells to hospitals in China and Japan on 860 different occasions from November 2008 through July 2012 without reporting the shipments to the Korea Customs Service (KCS).
The company also allegedly smuggled out stem cell incubating batches worth 1.1 billion won to a Chinese corporation through a merchant.
"The fact that the company has not reported the items to customs is true. The case has now been referred to the prosecution for further investigation," said an official from the KCS.
Under the Customs Law, if a person sends items for business use overseas, they must report them to the customs.
RNL Bio is also embroiled in controversy over introducing Korean patients to Japanese hospitals for stem cell therapy, which is highly restricted here.
The company was criticized for exposing patients to potential risks arising from the treatment. Under the Korean Pharmaceutical Law, only stem cell treatment that has received approval after clinical testing is acceptable for use. In Japan, however, doctors are free to conduct operations with stem cells they have extracted from patients without approval from the health authorities.
Prosecutors had been investigating the case after the Ministry of Health and Welfare referred the company to it for violating the Pharmaceutical Law in January last year. However, they halted the investigation in June following the company's filing of a complaint with the Constitutional Court.
RNL Bio claimed the current law requiring researchers to receive certification for stem cell treatments after undergoing three rounds of clinical testing was a violation of the right to conduct research.
The prosecution plans to restart its investigation dependent on the ruling from the Constitutional Court.
The company did not give an immediate response to whether the allegations were true, but said it would release a public statement today.