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Thieves Robbed Confucian Shrines and Temples with Crane

Posted March. 31, 2005 23:51,   


The police have arrested a group of people on the charge of stealing about 2,350 cultural assets, including national treasures, from temples and private museums in Youngnam, Jeonnam and Chungnam provinces.

They took many priceless cultural properties such as cornerstones of Joong Jeong Dang (250th national treasury) at Dodong Seowon, a Confucian academy (1568 AD) in Dalseong-gun, Daegu and a decoration featuring the nimbus of a Buddhist statue that was preserved at the Deep Rooted Tree Museum in Boseong-gun, Jeonnam.

All Time Large Scale-

A team for broad investigations of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency has accused Park (53) of stealing cultural assets, and Jeong (46), who brokered sales of stolen goods to antique art dealers, of violating the protection law of cultural properties on March 31. Jeong once served as the manager of a branch office of the Association of Korean Ancient Art in the past.

The police issued arrest warrants to two persons including Sohn (53), who brokered sales of stolen national assets on the same charge, and booked another two, including Kwon (63), who purchased them, without detention.

According to the police, four people including Park entered Dodong Seowon at 8:00 p.m. on February 15 and robbed two cornerstones of Joong Jeong Dang established in the early Joseon Dynasty. They allegedly have stolen around 2,350 cultural properties over 11 times from August last year.

It has been revealed that the offenders handed over the stolen artworks to experts on ancient art collections and that Jeong sold them to other art dealers.

The seized ancient collections contain five pieces including the nimbus of a Buddhist statue at the Deep Rooted Tree Museum, which were registered on the robbery report, eight classical books preserved at the Haemi Confucian Shrine, Seosan in Chungnam, two warrior statues reserved by the Jung family, Yeonggwang in Jeonnam, and clan registers and a letter of appointment from a king in the Joseon Dynasty of the nine families, including the family of Kwon in Andong.

An official from the Cultural Heritage Administration said, “The scale of the robberies is the biggest in history in terms of the number of goods stolen,” adding, “Experts have not examined the value of the goods, but it is estimated at around eight billion won.”

The police office expect that there are at least four to five groups of thieves that excel in robbing cultural properties, so they have been tracking down three people involved in the case, such as Kim (41) who ran away during the investigation, while looking into the possibility of the export of the stolen national assets abroad.

Cultural Properties Vulnerable to Robbers-

The police announced that the thieves including Park (41) drove a truck with a crane and stole stone materials and cultural assets at night that were not designated as cultural treasures by the government from Confucian shrines and temples, which were not managed and guarded well.

Earlier this year, three people, including Eun (54), were arrested on the charge of stealing a pair of warrior statues from tombs in Jeonnam province, which were not designated as notional cultural properties, but still valued at about two billion won.

Non-designated cultural properties mean cultural materials that are not designated by the regulations of cities or local governments, but that are worth preserving. The authority said that most of non-designated cultural properties are exposed to the risk of robbery owing to a lack of management. Moreover, it is hard to record the exact conditions and numbers of those materials since their holders do not want publicity.

Indeed, the policy agency has been suffering in terms of arrests of offenders since the larceners of cultural properties usually consist of cell organizations that specialize in robbing to sales of robbed goods.

Jae-Dong Yu jarrett@donga.com