A South Korean court on Wednesday ruled that a 14th-century Korean Buddhist statue should be returned to a Japanese temple from which it was stolen in 2012.
The statue’s return had been put on hold for years after a South Korean temple claimed ownership of it, insisting it was likely looted by medieval Japanese pirates before ending up in a temple on Tsushima Island, believed to be in 1527.
The South Korean temple is likely to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court.
SOUTH KOREA IS DROPPING MANDATORY INNER MASKS BUT MANY CONTINUE WEARING THEM AS CONCERNS REMAIN
Japanese Chief of Cabinet Hirokazu Matsuno said his government would encourage Seoul to facilitate the statue’s speedy return to Japan.
The 20-inch gilded bronze Buddha statue was one of two stolen from Kannonji Temple in Tsushima by thieves trying to sell it in South Korea.
The South Korean government returned the other statue to the temple shortly after police recovered the items from the thieves, who were arrested and prosecuted.
But Buseoksa Temple in the western coastal city of Seosan filed a lawsuit to stop the government from returning the other statue, saying Buseoksa is the legal owner. Korean historical records indicate that the statue, housed in a government research institute in downtown Daejeon, was created around 1330 to be enshrined in Buseoksa.
The Daejeon District Court ruled in 2017 that the government should return the statue to Buseoksa as it was likely brought to Japan through theft or looting.
But the Daejeon High Court reversed the ruling on Wednesday, saying Japan’s Kannonji acquired rightful ownership of the statue through permanent possession.
SOUTH KOREA PLANS TO PROVIDE HUMANITARIAN AID TO NORTH KOREA IN HOPES TO STRENGTHEN LINKS
Under Japanese civil law, a person or entity can acquire ownership of property that did not originally belong to them if they own it “peacefully and openly” for at least 20 years. This means that Kannonji has been the legal owner of the statue since 1973 because it listed itself as a legal entity in 1953, the Daejeon Supreme Court ruled.
The court also said it was difficult to determine whether the current Buseoksa Temple should fully inherit the rights of the temple, which was originally built in 14 structure and ownership.
Buseoksa officials criticized the verdict and said they would discuss with their lawyers whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
“We will probably have to appeal as today’s verdict was difficult to understand and had no legal logic,” said Lee Sang-geun, who chairs a committee of Buddhist leaders and civil society activists pushing for the statue’s return to Buseoksa.
Sekko Tanaka, Kannonji’s former chief monk, welcomed the verdict but questioned why the case had dragged on for more than a decade when the main issue was “simple theft”.
“I am grateful that the judiciary granted our application,” he told Japanese television station TBS. “I hope the statue returns to Kannonji as soon as possible.”