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Retired looters help police find stolen artifacts

South Korean police nabbed some 90 people and seized hundreds of stolen artifacts in a sweeping, nationwide investigation into the looting, forgery and smuggling of artifacts, the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency said.

Not only investigators, but heritage experts and even retired looters joined hands in the search, which ran from August to October.  

Looted artifacts seized by police in a recent investigation are on display at a police briefing Wednesday at the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency. (Yonhap)
Looted artifacts seized by police in a recent investigation are on display at a police briefing Wednesday at the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency. (Yonhap)

According to the police, former thieves, who are now in their 70s and 80s and who cannot be charged for their past crimes due to the statue of limitations, cooperated in the investigation as a form of atonement. Police, acting on their tip-offs, were able to uncover illegal trades in places including Insa-dong, Seoul. 

A total of 799 artifacts, most of them stolen from local temples and Joseon era-school buildings some 20 to 30 years ago, were confiscated. Some 90 people thought to be involved in looting or the illicit trade of looted antiquities, were booked. Among them is the director of a private museum in North Gyeongsang Province, the police revealed.

Some of the major pieces recovered include a 17th-century book of victories in the Imjin War (1592-1598), written by admiral Yi Sun-sin, who fought in the war against the Japanese invasion, gold earrings from a second- or third-century grave in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang Province, and a copy of selected 16th-century Confucian articles composed by a renowned Joseon scholar.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)



 

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