But a South Korean temple, Buseoksa, which says the Buddha statue was made there in the 14th century, won a court injunction in 2013 preventing its return until it could be determined whether it had originally been brought to Tsushima legitimately.So... steal things now, bring them back to their place of origin, and the fact of the known recent theft is overridden by the possibility that they were stolen long ago?
The statue, of the Buddha in the lotus position, has been in the government’s custody since then, and on Thursday a district court in Daejeon, a city south of Seoul, ruled that it should be given to Buseoksa...
The temple’s chief monk, the Venerable Wonwoo, hailed the ruling as a milestone that should inspire South Koreans to try to bring home what he claimed were 70,000 ancient Korean artifacts that had been looted and brought to Japan.
It's not quite that easy. There was some evidence that it was stolen — a document inside the statue showed its time and place of origin but not a record of transferring ownership, Japanese pirates were active at the relevant time and place, and there's some burn damage on the statue, possibly caused by pirates. The South Korean judge said that was good enough to rule that the statue belongs to the South Korean temple.
But what happens now? Venerable Wonwoo seems to be openly encouraging South Koreans to swipe their artifacts back from Japan. He's saying there are 70,000 of them. And yet the modern-day thieves still face criminal charges for theft. Buseoksa got to keep this statue. That doesn't mean the men who lifted it from Japan didn't face criminal charges.
I'm sorry, I just got distracted looking back at the story of why O.J. Simpson is in prison. But that happened in Nevada. I have no idea how a South Korean court would analyze such matters, nor do I have a good grasp of the current political sensibilities in South Korea about Japan.