Smuggling ring stole housands of artifacts
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and the Cultural Heritage Administration said yesterday that they caught a criminal ring, including its 52-year-old leader surnamed Yoo, and 23 suspects that have smuggled out 3,589 pieces of cultural assets such as old books and antique furniture from the Joseon Dynasty era (1392-1910) to China and Japan. The police have reclaimed 74 pieces from the suspects.
The police said that Yoo sent out a total of 3,486 old books on 129 different occasions from April 2009 to November last year through international freight in Incheon International Airport, inserting the old books inside of normal books or wrapping the books in newspapers to disguise the books.
Yoo testified that he purchased the books after receiving a list from his 41-year-old relative living in China and sent the acquired assets, receiving a total of 20 million won ($17,560) in return. The police said that the total worth for the smuggled cultural assets is about 230 million won.
Another suspect Lee, 64, purchased about 100 pieces of cultural assets such as woodcraft, pottery and antique furniture from cultural asset dealers in Dongdaemun and Jung District in central Seoul from May 2005 and December last year and smuggled them to Japan and China through a port in Busan. The police said that the suspects disguised the goods as used furniture.
The police said that many high-value pieces such as a literary work written by Lee Hwang, one of the greatest statesmen during the Joseon Dynasty, and a woodblock book of literature published by Gyujanggak, a royal library and a setting for the study of contemporary political and societal policies, were smuggled by the suspects.
The police said that the smuggled cultural assets are not categorized as national treasures but categorized as general movable cultural assets that have historic value.
The assets are permitted to be traded inside the country, but can’t be sent outside the country without authorization signed by the administrator of the heritage administration.
“Many cultural assets are being smuggled outside the country through ports because they only check the paperwork of the cargo and don’t inspect the actual cargo,” a spokesman of the police said.
“We will expand the investigation by cooperating with the heritage administration at ports and airports to stamp out such attempts.”
In December, two Chinese tourists including a 57-year-old surnamed Chiang were caught at Incheon port while they were trying to smuggle out three answer sheets used for a bar exam during the Joseon Dynasty.
By Lee Seung-ho, Kwon Sang-soo [email@example.com]