DAEJEON/TOKYO, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- A local court on Thursday ordered an ancient Buddhist statue, stolen from a Japanese temple in 2012, to be handed over to a temple in Seosan on South Korea's west coast that has claimed ownership.
The Daejeon District Court ruled in favor of Buseok Temple, which filed a lawsuit against the Seoul government in April to take back the statue of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, which was stolen by Korean thieves from Kannon Temple in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, in October 2012.
"Based on (Buseok Temple's) statements during court hearings and onsite inspections, it is assumed that its ownership of the statue is sufficiently acknowledged," the court said in its ruling. "Considering its historical, religious values, (the government) has the responsibility to return it to the plaintiff."
The Japanese temple has demanded the return of the statue. But a South Korean court granted an injunction in February 2013 to suspend its return to Japan following a request by Buseok Temple. Temple officials claim the statue was illegally plundered by Japan.
Following the injunction, the statue was held by the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage.
The 50.5 centimeter-tall statue is presumed to have been made in the early 14th century during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and was designated by the Japanese prefecture as a cultural asset in 1973.
It was one of the two statues stolen by the thieves. The other statue, the bronze standing figure of the Tathagata Buddha, was returned to Japan in July 2015 after South Korean prosecutors concluded that they could not confirm if it was illegally taken to the island nation.
Regarding the court ruling, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed regret.
"It is very regrettable that such a ruling was made," he said during a regular press briefing.
"We will request an appropriate response from the South Korean government to make sure that the statue will be swiftly handed over to Japan," he added.