South Korean court says stolen statue must return to Japan
Legal Business | 2023/02/02 23:35
A South Korean court ruled Wednesday that a 14th century Korean Buddhist statue should be sent back to a Japanese temple from where it was stolen in 2012.

The statue’s return had been put on hold for years after a South Korean temple claimed ownership of it, insisting that it was likely looted by medieval Japanese pirates before it ended up at a temple on Tsushima island, presumably in 1527.

The South Korean temple is likely to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said his government will encourage Seoul to facilitate the statue’s swift return to Japan.

The 50-centimeter (20-inch) gilt bronze Buddha statue was one of two stolen from Tsushima’s Kannonji temple by thieves who attempted to sell them in South Korea.

South Korea’s government returned the other statue to the temple soon after police recovered the items from the thieves, who were arrested and prosecuted.

But Buseoksa temple in the western coastal city of Seosan filed a lawsuit to prevent the government from sending back the other statue, saying Buseoksa is the rightful owner. Korean historical records indicate that the statue, which is being kept at a state research institute in the central city of Daejeon, was created about 1330 to be enshrined at Buseoksa.

The Daejeon District Court ruled in 2017 that the government should return the statue to Buseoksa, saying it was likely taken to Japan through theft or pillage.

But the Daejeon High Court overturned the ruling on Wednesday, saying Japan’s Kannonji had acquired legal ownership of the statue through continuous possession.


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