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Buddhist Bodhisattva

South Korea’s top court orders stolen Buddhist statue to be returned to Japan

South Korea’s top court orders stolen Buddhist statue to be returned to Japan
An undated file photo shows an ancient Buddhist statue, stolen by South Koreans from Japan's Kannon Temple on Tsushima Island in 2012. South Korea's Supreme Court on 26 October 2023 ordered Buseok Temple in Seosan, 98 kilometers southwest of Seoul, to return the statue to the Japanese temple, upholding the lower court's ruling that the 50.5-centimeter-tall, 38.6-kilogram statue of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva belongs to Kannon Temple. Buseok Temple had filed an appeal against the Seoul government to take back the statue, claiming it was made in the early 14th century by artisans in the ancient Korean kingdom of Goryeo (918-1392) and looted by Japanese pirates from the temple hundreds of years ago. EPA-EFE/YONHAP SOUTH KOREA OUT

SEOUL, Oct 26 (Reuters) - South Korea's top court on Thursday rejected a local temple's claim to a statue that it said Japanese pirates had looted in the 14th century, clearing the way for Japan to press for the artefact's return after it was stolen by South Korean thieves.

The 20-inch gilt bronze statue of a Buddhist Bodhisattva was stolen from a Japanese temple in 2012 by South Korean thieves, who were caught trying to sell it after returning home.

The Buseoksa Temple in South Korea filed a legal case in 2016 claiming ownership of the statue, which has been in the custody of the government, saying Japanese pirates had plundered it centuries ago.

South Korea’s Supreme Court, however, upheld a lower court’s decision in February rejecting the temple’s claim, and said the Seoul government, the defendant in this case, had to return it to Japan, acknowledging its ownership.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said it respects the top court’s decision.

“The return procedures will be decided by our relevant agency in accordance with related laws and regulations,” a ministry spokesperson told a briefing.

The case has been closely watched in both countries, traditional rivals whose relations have for decades been frayed by historic feuds.

The Japanese temple, Kannonji, was not a direct party to the suit but had argued that the artefact was not acquired illegally through pirates but through legitimate trade.

(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Jack Kim; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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