Japanese priest demands return of stolen statue in S.Korea court

A Buddhist priest from Japan has demanded at a court hearing in South Korea an early return of an ancient statue stolen from his temple 10 years ago.

Tanaka Setsuryo is the chief priest of the Kannonji Buddhist temple on Tsushima Island in Nagasaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan. He appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday.

The figure of a bodhisattva in the lotus position was stolen from the temple in 2012 and later found in South Korea. The statue is now held by the country's government.

Buseok Temple in central South Korea, which claims ownership of the statue, filed suit to demand that the government hand it over to the temple.
The temple argued in court that the figure was previously stolen from the Korean Peninsula by Japanese pirates in medieval times.

A court in the central South Korean city of Daejeon ordered in 2017 that the statue be handed over to Buseok Temple.

The government appealed the ruling to a higher court.

Last November, a South Korean high court approved the Japanese temple's participation in hearings as a third party with interest.

Tanaka said in court that Kannonji held the figure peacefully and publicly, and that it belongs to the temple based on both Japanese and South Korean civil law. He said the statue was stolen and illegally taken to South Korea, and that he strongly wants it returned as soon as possible.
Tanaka said legend has it that his temple received the statue on the Korean Peninsula in the 16th century.

In response, the Buseok Temple side demanded that Kannonji present evidence that it received the statue legitimately.

Tanaka later told reporters that he said everything he wanted to say in court. He added that 10 years has already passed.

The next court hearing is scheduled for August 17.