Woman smuggled in 1,300 paintings from North

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Woman smuggled in 1,300 paintings from North

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A Seoul police investigator checks confiscated North Korean paintings yesterday at Yeongdeungpo Police Precinct. According to police, smugglers have brought in 1,308 paintings since May 2010 and have sold them on the black market in prices ranging from 30,000 won (28 dollars) to 1 million won per piece. [YONHAP]


The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency is investigating an ethnic Korean woman for allegedly smuggling North Korean paintings into the South as well as three South Koreans for allegedly helping her sell them to locals at art galleries and on the Internet.

Police said the 46-year-old ethnic Korean woman, surnamed Kim from China, brought some 1,300 paintings from North Korea into China and then smuggled them into South Korea from May 2010 to July 2011 through international mail.

Kim’s supply of artworks, police said, was facilitated by her North Korean husband, who used his contacts as a member of an organization for overseas North Koreans to sign an agreement with a Pyongyang-based artists’ association to pay about $8,000 annually plus half of the profits from abroad in exchange for the paintings.

The couple told police that they sent money to the North, though police have yet to verify whether the funds were actually sent.

The woman told police that she also smuggled in paintings by flying from Beijing into Incheon International Airport, wrapping them in newspaper and stuffing them in her handbag. She told police that South Korean customs officials never caught her hidden paintings and that she had never declared the items.

“It is the first time to find smuggling of North Korean paintings into the South to make foreign currency,” said a statement from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency yesterday.

“According to President Lee’s May 24 statement, restrictions on items brought into the country have been intensified, but this case still shows a loophole in the customs process.”

Kim sold the paintings - many of them landscape paintings as well as scenes of North Korean life - to locals at art galleries in Gwangju, Incheon and Daejeon, or through South Korean Web sites at various prices, ranging from 30,000 won ($28) to 1 million won. The couple earned 30 million won in sales in total.

To show that the works were authentic, Kim showed prospective buyers a photo of a North Korean artist in a communist-style khaki jumpsuit standing in front of his painting.

“But we haven’t verified whether the North Korean regime ordered the couple to sell the paintings or whether they just did it for their own benefit,” Lee Heung-hun, a police official, told reporters yesterday. “She said that the artists are farmers so they can paint only during their spare time and that she wanted to make money. But she didn’t say anything about the regime.”

On Aug. 4, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency identified 17 South Koreans and ethnic Koreans from China for selling illegal software to Internet cafes in South Korea and China. Investigators believe the suspects were affiliated with North Korea’s Office 39, which manages slush funds for the North’s leadership and makes foreign currency through illicit means.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

한 점에 최고 100만원… 북한 미술품 외화벌이

옌볜(延邊)의 조선족 자치주에 사는 중국 동포 김모(46·여)씨는 남편이 북한 국적을 갖고 있다. 중국인인 남편의 아버지가 한국전쟁에 참전했다 북한에 남았고, 그곳에서 남편의 어머니를 만나 결혼했기 때문이다. 남편은 ‘조선해외동포원호위원회’ 소속으로 북한의 ‘만수대 창작사 조선화 창작단’과 연간 8000달러와 그림 판매대금의 반을 주는 계약을 하고 평양을 왕래해 왔다.

 김씨는 남편이 북한에서 가져온 그림을 국제우편을 통하거나 직접 한국으로 밀반입한 뒤 인천·대전·광주 등지의 갤러리에 1점당 3만~100만원씩에 팔았다. 이렇게 김씨는 지난해 5월부터 올해 7월까지 ‘조선화 창작단’ 소속 화가들의 그림 1308점을 국내로 밀반입해 이 중 1139점을 모두 3000만원을 받고 팔았다.

 서울지방경찰청 국제범죄수사대는 17일 남북교류협력에 관한 법률 위반 혐의로 김씨와 갤러리 운영자 이모(47)씨 등 4명을 불구속 입건했다고 밝혔다. 김씨는 경찰 조사에서 지난달 11일 인천공항을 통해 신문지로 싼 그림 500여 점을 가방에 넣어 들어왔으나 세관의 제지를 받지 않았다고 진술했다. 김씨는 그림이 북한에서 그린 진품이라는 것을 증명하려고 인민복을 입은 북한 화가가 직접 그림을 들고 찍은 사진을 보여주기도 했다. 밀반입된 그림 중에는 월북 화가 고 정창모 화백의 ‘화조도’를 비롯, 공훈예술가 전영 화백의 ‘아침’ 등 유명 화가들의 작품이 다수 포함됐다.

 경찰 관계자는 “북한이 ‘조선해외동포원호위원회’를 통해 해외에 그림을 팔고 있다는 것을 최초로 확인한 사건”이라고 말했다. 경찰은 통일부 장관 승인 없이 밀반입해 판매하는 북한 물품이 더 있을 것으로 보고 수사를 확대하고 있다.

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