Korean dude in New Jersey arrested for buying stolen Korean artifact / Busan customs lets stolen Buddhist statues disappear

I’m glad an artifact may be returned (HT to somebody), but this seems a bit much:

The video says it shows a man named Won Young Youn, in a dark polo shirt, sitting casually at a table in Flushing, Queens. In his left hand he holds a recent purchase from an online auction, a small metal tablet that, he explains, is a plate that was used for printing currency in Korea during the tumultuous period before that country became a colony of imperial Japan.
Now, Mr. Youn is in a federal detention center in Detroit, where he was taken after his arrest this month on charges of possessing and transporting stolen goods, felonies that each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Federal prison? Seriously?

BTW, bragging in the media—in Korean, no less—might not have been the smartest thing to do:

The arrest was also a result of Mr. Youn’s boasting. Though he received warnings, including one from the South Korean Embassy, that his purchase was illegal, he eagerly told Korean-language newspapers and radio and television stations of his acquisition.

The plate had been stolen by a US Marine from Deoksugung Palace during the Korean War. In the media, Youn apparently presented himself as “a sort of Indiana Jones figure, saving Korean artifacts from obscurity in the United States.”

A modern-day Jeon Hyeong-pil, he is.

Anyway, the artifact is likely to be returned to Korea, even if the outcome is not optimal in the opinion of one Korean embassy official:

The situation was not what Mr. Lee, the embassy official, had hoped for. “The goal is not for a person of Korean origin to be convicted,” he said. “The goal is to retake a precious cultural asset.”

I’ll let you ponder what that means.

Meanwhile in Korea, a mistake by customs officials in Busan has allowed smugglers to disappear with two Korean Buddhist statues stolen from a Shinto shrine in Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan.

The two statues, which date from the Silla and Goryeo eras, are considered “National Treasure”-level artifacts. The thieves stole the artifacts from the shrine and took a ferry back to Busan the same day. When they got to Busan, officials examines the artifacts, but judged them to be fakes.

Two months later, the Japanese government reported to the Korean government that the artifacts had been stolen and asked Korean authorities to investigate. The police and Cultural Heritage Administration belatedly learned of the screw-up at Busan customs and tried to track down the thieves, but they were long gone.

Now, one is tempted to say, well, those artifacts were probably looted from Korea anyway, so no harm, no foul. Nine out of ten times you might be right, but not in this case, apparently—from what I can find on the Net, it appears the statues were sent to Japan in ancient times when Korea and this part of Japan shared brisk cultural exchanges.

Considering that one of the statues was worth 100 million yen, I’m guessing they’re sitting in some jaebeol type’s private art collection somewhere now.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com/ Sperwer

    “Federal prison? Seriously?”

    He should be thankful he’s not going to Butt F**k State Pen.

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Good point.

  • stereo

    >Now, one is tempted to say, well, those artifacts were probably looted from Korea anyway, so no harm, no foul. Nine out of ten times you might be right

    Wow. The issue of Korean artifacts in Japan was all settled by Japan Korea Basic Treaty in 1965. Korea gave Japan their claim list and Japan gave Korea more than 1000 artifacts. There should be no artifacts which illegally remain in Japan. So, nine out of ten, any artifact of Korean origin that is in Japan now lawfully belongs to Japan or Japanese. Of course, if such artifacts were indeed illegally taken to Japan, Koreans can reclaim them after proving so. But benefit of doubt remains with Japan.

    What I find Koreans unbelievable is their lack of sense of “rule of law”. Koreans, if you think an artifact was illegally taken to Japan and you wish it back, file a law suit with EVIDENCE. If you do so, Japan will gladly return it. Do not steal. Do not buy an ad space in New York, saying “Japan took it, though we do not have any evidence”. Do not chop fingers. If you claim without evidence, most Japanese will take it as blackmail and refuse return. Why cannot Koreans just accept “rule of law”?

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    The issue of Korean artifacts in Japan was all settled by Japan Korea Basic Treaty in 1965.

    Feel free to keep believing that.

    What I find Koreans unbelievable is their lack of sense of “rule of law”.

    And what I find unbelievable about Japanese is their incredible lack of self-reflection:


  • Stereo

    Why do not you give me an evidence that they were “illegally” taken to Japan?
    The pagoda may have been bought or given. The burdon of proof is on Koreans.
    Do you see why I say Koreans lack sense of rule of law?

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Like I said, astounding lack of self-reflection. And you wonder why your neighbors all hate you.

  • stereo

    Robert, read this.
    “The delegation was in Tokyo to negotiate the return of several pagodas now on display at the Okura Shukokan, where a lot of Korean cultural properties taken from Korea during the colonial period are on display.”
    This is what you quoted from NYT on Aug 11, 2011.
    That sentence may give you an impression that the museum collects artifacts “illegally” taken to Japan, but it actually does not say anything about legality. Okura museum claims all of their collections were lawfully acquired and, therefore, they have no intention to return any of their artifacts and are angry with Koreans.
    Do not get fooled by yellow journalism.

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    See previous comment.

  • stereo

    No museum in the world is safe from losing its Korean collections because they were “taken from Korea” at one time or the other.

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Funny, and typically Japanese. And by Japanese, I mean astoundingly insensitive and apologetic. I don’t mind that Japan won’t return Korean artifacts. Many countries refuse to return plundered artifacts. But at least have the common courtesy to admit you plundered them from a prostate nation.

  • stereo

    Is it so hard for Koreans to produce evidence? At least, they should not say Japanese plundered artifacts without any evidence. Yeah, Japanese must have stolen them because of their skin color.

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Is it so hard to admit your ancestors were cultural heritage-plundering imperialist assholes?

  • stereo

    Why do you think Japan plundered that pagoda from Korea?
    This is the common pattern of Korea Japan disputes. Korea starts a wild accusation without evidence. Japan rejects an apology because it honestly has no memory of such wrong doing. Why do not we let the law rule? An accuser must produce evidence. It is very simple.

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Japan rejects an apology because it honestly has no memory of such wrong doing.

    Finally, you speak the truth.

  • stereo

    So, you admit that Korean accusations are false. Koreans tend to blame others even without believing the blamed are at fault.

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    No, that’s not what I’m saying.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Why? Probably because you are a nation of savage monsters, thats why. And karma is a bitch aint it, tsunami boy.

  • RElgin

    . . . except for Russia.

  • RElgin

    If the deal was legit, where is the receipt or a detailed provenance. Seeing how concerned with its history, I am sure Japan kept good records of these acquisitions.

    Otherwise, no provenance = illegally gained.

  • Arghaeri

    Now that really is daft. If that is the criteria for illegal then virtually every possession I have is illegally acquired

  • RElgin
  • http://www.facebook.com/cactusmcharris Jeff Harris

    They had better check him for pieces of the Burgess Shale, too. Oh wait, he needs to be Czech for that.

  • stereo

    Article 200 of Korean civil code says, “possessor of a thing is presumed to hold the title of it”.
    Why do not you apply the same principle to the pagoda in Okura museum? It is just presumption and you are free to prove otherwise.