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First high court hearing on stolen Buddhist statue upcoming

2017/03/20 17:56

DAEJEON, March 20 (Yonhap) -- The second round of a legal battle over the ownership of an ancient Korean-made Buddhist statue which was stolen by South Korean thieves from a Japanese temple a few years ago will begin later this week, a high court official said Monday.

In its ruling on Jan. 26, the Daejeon District Court ordered the government to hand over the 14th century statue to its original owner Buseok Temple. Earlier, the temple filed a suit against the government, claiming that the statue was first plundered by the Japanese from the temple, located in South Korea's southeastern city of Yeongju.

The prosecution immediately decided to appeal against the decision, and successfully requested a stay of execution on the lower court's ruling until the Daejeon High Court's sentence comes out.

"The first appeals trial will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday," the official said.

The Gilt Bronze Seated Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva Statue. (Yonhap) The Gilt Bronze Seated Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva Statue. (Yonhap)

The Korean thieves stole the statue from Kannon Temple on Tsushima Island in Japan in October 2012, and smuggled it into the country that year. They were arrested a few months later.

The South Korean authorities have retrieved the statue and preserved it at the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul thus far.

After years of dispute, the lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

The 50.5 centimeter-tall, 38.6-kilogram "Gilt Bronze Seated Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva Statue" is estimated to have been manufactured in the early 14th century during Korea's Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

The statue was designated as a cultural asset in Japan in 1973. The Japanese government has persistently demanded its return since 2012.