South Korean monk gets six years for Buddha statue theft

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese court on Thursday sentenced a South Korean monk to six years in prison for stealing a Buddha statue and a set of scriptures from an island that has long been a historic gateway between the two nations.

Kim Sang-ho, 70, together with four other South Koreans, stole the statue and 360 volumes of Buddhist scripture, worth around 110 million yen (S$1.24 million) in total, according to the ruling by the Nagasaki District Court.

They were stolen in November last year from a temple on Tsushima island, about 50km from the Korean peninsula, which is dotted with temples and other relics that underline centuries of interaction.

Presiding Judge Satoshi Miyamoto said Kim "made plans and played the key role" regarding the robbery, Kyodo News agency reported.

The copper statuette, which stands about 10cm tall, was reportedly a ninth-century gift from the Korean kingdom.

The situation of the remaining four South Koreans involved in the theft is unclear.

The island saw two ancient Buddha statues stolen in 2012 by Korean thieves.

Four people were arrested in South Korea in 2013 over that theft, after they tried to sell the statues which were then confiscated by the authorities.

Japan requested the two statues' swift return, but a South Korean District Court blocked their repatriation on suspicion that they might have been stolen from Korea centuries ago by Japanese pirates.

South Korea last month decided to return one of two ancient Buddha statues.