Two held over theft of artifacts from temples

Kyodo

Two men have been arrested and indicted on charges relating to the theft of cultural artifacts, including an ancient Korean Buddhist painting, from a temple in Japan, South Korean prosecutors said Wednesday.

Prosecutors hailed Tuesday’s arrests and indictments as the successful outcome of close cooperation between law enforcement authorities in South Korea and Japan.

They said 55-year-old fortuneteller Kim Chung Shik and his 53-year-old neighbor, identified only by his family name, Hwang, are suspected of stealing eight artifacts worth 1.75 billion won ($1.5 million) from Kakurinji Temple in Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture, in July 2002.

Among the eight items was a Buddhist painting from Korea’s Koryo Dynasty (918-1392) worth 1 billion won.

Kim allegedly said that his motivation in the theft was to recover Korean cultural assets stolen by Japan during its invasion of Korea in 1592 and its colonial occupation from 1910 to 1945.

He has reportedly told prosecutors he was influenced by a history book written by a South Korean college professor in the late 1990s that said many Korean cultural assets pillaged by Japan are now in the possession of various Japanese Buddhist temples.

But prosecutors alleged the suspects were motivated by financial gain as the painting was sold for 110 million won to an antique dealer after being brought back to South Korea. Its location remains unknown as it was traded on to other dealers.

They said Kim entered Japan with Hwang in July 2002, and they stole the artifacts from Kakurinji with the assistance of Kim’s 48-year-old brother, who resides in Japan.