Defector can dig for gold at temple

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Defector can dig for gold at temple

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The time has finally come to test a claim by a North Korean defector that there are 40 kilograms (88.2 pounds) of gold bullion, worth 2.4 billion won ($2 million), buried in the backyard of Donghwa Temple in Daegu.

Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration on Thursday conditionally accepted an excavation request by the defector surnamed Kim, 40, to dig up the temple’s backyard to find the gold bars he says were buried there by his stepfather during the Korean War.

In its grant, the agency required Kim to be accompanied by experts and public officials to ensure no damage is done to the temple’s main building, National Treasure No. 1563.

According to an officer of the Dong District Office in Daegu, if gold is actually found, the temple and the defector will negotiate who keeps it and consult the law.

“After reviewing documents, ground penetrating radar and a magnetic survey submitted by Kim to back up his claims, we concluded there is a possibility a metal substance exists underneath, so we allowed him to proceed with the work,” said Lee Sun-kyoung, a tangible cultural asset department official.

It is required that any excavation efforts in and around Donghwa Temple must get approval from the heritage administration as it is a national treasure.

Kim said he would arrange a schedule with related government offices to set a date for the excavation, adding, “It could come as early as sometime next week.”

Kim, who defected to the South in 2009 from the North’s Hamgyong Province, claims he heard from his stepfather before his escape that the older man buried the bullion in the temple’s backyard after the outbreak of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Kim has made repeated requests to proceed with the excavation work since earlier this year.

The Cultural Properties Committee, however, denied him permission three times, citing lack of hard proof.

By Hong Gweon-sam [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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