Golden Buddha Stolen From Haeju Museum, North Korea

Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun
5/16/2007

National Safety Agency rounds up an arrest

On the 11th, robbers raided the Haeju Historical Museum in Haejoo, North Hwanghae, stealing golden statues of Buddha and ancient Korean pottery worth a large amount, an inside source disclosed.

The source said, “On the night of 11th, golden statues of Buddha and ancient Korean pottery were stolen from Haeju Museum. The exact identity of which Buddha statues and rare artifacts were stolen has not been revealed, however, it appears the goods were rather important considering a special order was given to the border guards and the National Safety Agency has become involved.”

Haeju Historical Museum opened in 1949 and has maintained its heritage for 60 years. The museum displays a collection of ancient Korean pottery from the area and a variety of golden Buddha statues. This museum falls under the same category as the top 5 museums located in North Korea including the Central Historical Museum in Pyongyang and Kaesong Museum, Sariwon Museum and Chongjin Museum.

“If the thief escaped Hwanghae on the day of the raid, then he will be difficult to catch. However, if that is not the case, there is a high chance that the thief will be caught within the next couple of days,” said the source.

He said, “An order has already been made to strictly control the smuggling routes around the border of Shinuiju.” He added, “Stealing historical artifacts and exporting them out of the country is a crime punished with death.”

Following the food crisis in the 90s and early 2000, there were many cases where military officials, security agents and the elite frequently stole historical artifacts. The whole city was affected especially if there were many people living in the area who had inherited historical artifacts from ancestors.

However, for the past 3~4 years, there was a decrease in stolen articles as the number of ancient artifacts had been depleted and furthermore because authorities immediately punished those who stole and sold the goods overseas with capital punishment.

However, as this case shows, stealing a number of articles from museums has continued. In particular, imitations of artifacts have been sold outside the country, and North Korean authorities are facing complaints from foreign buyers. Consequently, there have been cases where affiliated persons have also been executed.

A defector who has experience in selling antiques said, “In 1993, a picture of a Great Monk Seosan was sold in Hong Kong but then returned to North Korea after it was discovered to be a fake. Parties concerned were punished.”

He said, “Precious artifacts are either sent to Pyongyang to be exhibited at the Central Historical Museum or stored separately. A curator affiliated to Mansudae Art Institution then makes a copy and sends it to either the country or, in most cases, puts it on display in Pyongyang.”

He said, “Even if the Japanese buy $10,000 worth of Nihontou (Japanese swords) with the carved seal of a Japanese Emperor, there are still many people who want to possess artifacts from the Chosun Revolutionary Museum. Even I went around until my feet were worn out carrying antiques to make money. However, most of these goods were imitations copied by Mansudae Art Institution.”

Last year, there was one case where a group of 22 people were caught stealing tombstones off royal tombs. Though it is difficult to transport these tombstones, since they weigh a minimum of 500kg and as much as 2-3tons, once they are secretly transported to China, the tombstones sell at a very high price.

The moment North Korean authorities discovered the case, Chinese authorities were contacted and a cooperative investigation begun. The tombstones were redeemed from a storage area in Dandung. At the time, the Chinese dealers were given a heavy fine and the organizer of the North Korean exports, a national security agent, was known to have committed suicide.

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