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South Korea unsure whether stolen Buddhist statue was previously plundered: broadcaster

Yonhap News, Apr 11, 2016

TOKYO, Japan -- South Korea finds it difficult to determine conclusively that an ancient Buddhist statue stolen from a Japanese temple was illegally brought to Japan, although it is highly likely for the statue to have been previously plundered by Japanese pirate raiders, a Japanese broadcaster reported Monday.

<< This provided photo shows an ancient Buddhist statue, the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, which was stolen by a Korean theft ring from Kannon Temple in Tsushima, Japan's Nagasaki Prefecture, in 2013. (Yonhap)

Japanese public broadcaster NHK said the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration made the judgment in a report on the statue of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, which was one of two Buddhist statues stolen by a Korean theft ring from Kannon Temple in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, in 2013.

The administration's report requested by South Korean prosecutors has attracted considerable attention, with many wondering how South Korean prosecutors will respond to the Japanese temple's request that it be immediately returned.

A South Korean court granted an injunction in February 2013, filed by Buseok Temple in Seosan on the country's west coast, suspending the return of the statue.

The Buddhist statue is presumed to have been made in the 14th century during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392) and was designated as a cultural asset by the prefecture.

South Korea returned the other stolen statue, which had been located at Kaijin Shrine nearby the Japanese temple, back to the shrine last July after South Korean prosecutors concluded that they could not verify whether it had been illegally brought to Japan. That statue, a bronze standing figure of the Tathagata Buddha, is designated as an important national cultural property.

Experts have said the statue, which was crafted in the 8th century during the Unified Silla period, was presumed to have been moved to Japan through either cultural exchange or looting during the Japanese invasion of Korea, known as the Imjin War, from 1592-1598.

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