A trial has begun for South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who is facing charges of fraud and embezzlement in connection with his now discredited research on the cloning of human stem cells.

Hwang's supporters filled a courtroom in the capital, Seoul Tuesday, as his trial began. He was indicted last month for allegedly misusing and embezzling almost $3 million in private and state research funds. He has denied the charges.

Prosecutors say Hwang also is accused of using part of the money to purchase human eggs for research, in violation of the country's bioethics law. If convicted, he could face at least three years in prison.

Prosecutors began their investigation of the disgraced scientist in January after a panel at his university accused him of fabricating key data in two research papers on cloning.

Five other scientists on Hwang's research team are facing similar charges.

Before questions about his work were raised late last year, Hwang was hailed as a national hero and a pioneer in embryonic stem cell research.