WASHINGTON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned two Royal Seals from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to the Republic of Korea. Each seal is valued at approximately $750,000.
“While we recognize that cultural property, art, and antiquities are often assigned a dollar value in the marketplace, the cultural and symbolic worth of these Korean treasures far surpasses any monetary value to the people of Korea,” said ICE Acting Director Thomas D. Homan.
The Royal Seals belonged to Queen Munjeong, who reigned from 1545 to 1565 and King Hyeonjong, who reigned from 1659 to 1674. The seal belonging to Queen Munjeong is believed to have been stolen during the Korean War (1950-1953) and illegally removed from Korea. King Hyeonjong’s seal is believed to have been stolen during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945).
“On behalf of the South Korean government, the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) and the National Palace Museum are deeply grateful to ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for the successful repatriation of the Royal Seals of Queen Munjung and King Hyeonjong. CHA trusts that this case and future joint investigations will further strengthen the alliance and partnership between the United States and South Korea,” said Director of the National Palace Museum of Korea Yeonsoo Kim
HSI began investigating Queen Munjeong’s seal in 2013 at the request of CHA after the seal was located at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), who had purchased the artifact in good faith in 2000. Subsequent investigations also lead to the discovery of King Hyeonjong’s seal in a private collection.
“Now, with the help of the American people, the national treasures of the Republic of Korea will be returned,” said Assemblyman of The National Assembly of the Republic of Korea Min Seok Ahn.
ICE has returned approximately 8,000 artifacts to over 30 countries since 2007, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th-18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia, and two Baatar dinosaur fossils to Mongolia, antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects returned to Iraq, ancient artifacts, including a mummy's hand, to Egypt, and most recently an illuminated page from a 15th century manuscript, nearly 200 ancient Roman coins and a book from the personal library of a 14th century Archbishop to Italy.
Learn more about ICE’s cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.