Three sentenced in South Korea for theft of Buddha statues from Japan

June 28, 2013 at 3:24 PM

DAEJEON, South Korea, June 28 (UPI) -- Three people were sentenced Friday in Daejeon, South Korea, for stealing two ancient Korean Buddha statues from Japan, court records said.

The three were part of a gang of seven, all South Korean, arrested this year after stealing the statues from the Kaijin shrine in Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan, slipping them through South Korean customs and attempting to sell them in South Korea, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

One statue was made in the eighth century, the other in the 14th century, giving them cultural status tantamount to national treasures, Yonhap said.

The three people sentenced Friday -- including the ringleader, with the surname Kim, 70 -- each received a sentence of three-to-four year for violating the cultural properties protection law. Three others received suspended prison terms, and the seventh was acquitted.

A court ruled in February the statues should not be returned to Japan until the temple could prove how it acquired them.

The statues are currently in custody of South Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration, which is looking into the possibility they may have been looted by Japan from the Korean Peninsula during Japan's 1910-1945 colonization of Korea, Yonhap said.

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