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Yeonsoo Chee. Commentary: A New Approach to the Repatriation of Cultural Property: Collaborative Investigations


The royal seals of King Hyeonjong (r. 1659–74) and Queen Munjeong (1501–65), which were illegally removed from Korea during the chaotic period of the Japanese occupation (1910–45) and the Korean War (1950–53), were returned to the country in July 2017. The successful repatriation of the seals was realized by the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) of Korea, in collaboration with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), through an investigative exchange of information.

CHA located the royal seal of Queen Munjeong while conducting joint research with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on the latter’s Korean collection in 2007–8. Subsequent explorations led to the discovery of King Hyeonjong’s seal in a private collection in Los Angeles in 2013. In May and July 2013, respectively, CHA requested HSI to open investigations on the two seals, and in September the same year, HSI seized the seals as the first step in the legal procedure to return them to the Korean government. In July 2014, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the repatriation of cultural assets was signed by CHA and HSI, and in April 2017, the State of California Department of Justice finally sentenced forfeiture of the two seals.

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May/June 2018
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