Smugglers sell 159 cultural properties on eBay

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Smugglers sell 159 cultural properties on eBay

The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) said yesterday that its joint investigation with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency had found that five people sold 159 cultural properties that date back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) - ancient documents, ceramics and folk items - to buyers abroad, mostly the U.S., on eBay.

The five were also found to have taken 28 cultural properties out of the country to sell them at an auction in China.

The CHA and the police have arrested the five people and collected 86 cultural properties - some of which hadn’t yet left Korea and some which had been taken to China to be sold at auction.

“After we were tipped off about such activities we arrested them and questioned them about the whereabouts of the cultural properties,” said Lee Yeong-gwon of the regional investigation team at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

“We found out that part of them were still kept in Korea and thus, were able to recover them.”

The CHA and the police reported the smugglers were very meticulous in their operation - using mostly a small-packet mailing service to avoid thorough inspection; writing false information about the parcels on required documents; and strategically placing them in different parts of their suitcases.

“In the case of the 28 cultural properties taken to China, they put the most valuable items on the very bottom and less valuable ones on the top, so that in case they are caught in an X-ray inspection, they would just lose the less valuable ones on the top,” said Park Yong-gi, an official at the CHA’s Safety and Standards Division.

Items that were smuggled out of Korea include the “Sipjukjae Book of Paintings and Calligraphy” made by Chinese painter-calligrapher Ho Jeong-eon (1582-1673), which was imported to Korea during the Joseon era (1329-1910) and influenced some of the most legendary Korean painters like Kim Hong-do (1745-1806) and Jeong Seon (1676-1759); Goryeo celadon from the Goryeo Dynasty; white porcelain from the Joseon era; and fans, hats and headpieces from the same era.

The CHA and the police said they will work together to prevent cultural properties from being taken out of the country.

In September last year, prosecutors levelled charges against a 52-year-old South Korean man for allegedly smuggling more than 3,000 pieces of valuable Korean cultural treasures to China.

The suspect, identified only by his surname Yoo, was charged with smuggling the items, such as old books and drawings, in violation of the law on cultural properties.

BY KIM HYUNG-EUN [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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