Arson in Busan was inside job

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Arson in Busan was inside job

The arsonist who set fire to a 1,300-year-old wooden gate at Beomeosa Temple on Dec. 15 in Busan was found to be an insider, according to authorities.

The police said yesterday that the 43-year-old alleged arsonist is a Buddhist follower and was confirmed to have been living and working at the temple.

The arsonist, surnamed Lee, is said to have felt he was mistreated and thus decided to destroy the temple’s Cheonwangmum, or Gate for the Heavenly King, which is considered one of the major architectural structures that honor the four mythical kings.

Lee told police that he has been doing all “the dirty work” at the temple and that the temple deployed him to work at another temple in Hongcheon, Gangwon, for six months in 2009, even though he says temple authorities knew he was not well, which he says made his health worse. Lee is being detained at Geomjeong Police Station in Busan and is being questioned over whether he had an accomplice.

Police gave this description of the crime: On Dec. 15, Lee purchased four bottles of paint thinner at a nearby store at about 2 p.m. and returned to the temple. About 10 p.m., Lee sprayed the thinner on the gate, set it on fire with a lighter and fled. Lee planned the crime for three days, police said.

Lee is also accused of setting fire on Geumjeong Mountain twice, on Dec. 9 and 10. Lee has been arrested on three charges of arson. Lee worked for Beomeosa Temple since the early 1990s.


By Yim Seung-hye [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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