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Korean Antique Association chief under investigation for alleged illegal shipping of artifacts to Australia

Yang Eui-sook, chief of the Korean Antique Association (Korean Antique Association)
Yang Eui-sook, chief of the Korean Antique Association (Korean Antique Association)

Yang Eui-sook, chief of the Korean Antique Association, is under police investigation for allegedly violating the cultural properties protection law, transferring some 20 artifacts to an Australian art museum in mid-2022 without permission from the Cultural Heritage Administration.

The Daejeon Metropolitan Police Agency confirmed to The Korea Herald Thursday that police raided Yang’s gallery in Seoul last week.

“We raided the gallery to collect documents related to Yang’s sending of antique artifacts abroad. If a violation is found, we will prosecute Yang,” the police official told The Herald. The official declined to discuss how the police was tipped off about the alleged wrongdoing.

Local news outlet Kyunghyang Shinmun reported Thursday that Yang is alleged to have sent some 20 artifacts from the 19th century to the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia without permission from the CHA.

“We require those who wish to send cultural items less than 50 years old overseas to seek a CHA certification that the items are not cultural heritage before sending them. If items older than 50 years are to be sent outside the country, CHA permission is required. Such permissions are granted for special circumstances, such as overseas exhibitions. Otherwise, they are not allowed to be taken out of the country," a CHA administration official told The Herald.

Yang obtained the CHA's permission in 2020 to transfer a moon jar assumed to be from the 18th century to the NGV. Therefore, she must have had knowledge about the mandatory reporting procedure, another CHA official said.

Speaking to The Herald on Thursday, Yang admitted to sending artifacts to the Australian art museum, including male hanbok trousers, claiming that these artifacts were less than 50 years old. She said that the museum had asked for Korean artifacts that are “from a long time ago." What she sent, however, are not from the 19th century, she explained.

“I knew about the reporting requirement, but it would have taken more than a year to get the CHA's approval. I had to ship the objects as soon as possible to the museum. I will release my official statement soon, so please wait until then,” Yang said.

Yang began a three-year term as the head of the association of antique art dealers in 2021.

By Park Yuna (