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Korean currency plate. Photo courtesy of ICE.

This week, North Korea got Dennis Rodman, and South Korea got something more cultural. In a first for immigration officials, a 100-year-old currency printing plate was returned to South Korea after it was taken during the Korean War. Here’s the ICE rundown on how the country can return to printing old money.

ICE returns Joseon Dynasty cultural artifact to South Korea
Sept. 3, 2013

SEOUL, South Korea – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned a Hojo currency plate, looted from the Deoksu Palace in Seoul during the Korean War, to the government of South Korea during a repatriation ceremony.

The plate, which dates back to 1893 during the Joseon Dynasty and is one of only three in existence, was unlawfully exported to the United States. It was later seized in New York following an investigation by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations special agents in Detroit. This repatriation marks the first time ICE has repatriated a cultural artifact to South Korea.

HSI Regional Attaché for Korea and Japan Taekuk Cho turned over the artifact to U.S. Ambassador Sung Y. Kim, who presented it to the Government of Korea Tuesday during a repatriation ceremony at the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office in Seoul. The plate will be housed in the National Palace museum at Gyeongbuk Palace.

HSI special agents in New York arrested Won Young Youn, 54, formerly of Fort Lee, N.J., in January for illegally purchasing the currency plate from Oxford, Mich., auction house owner James Amato. The currency plate was recovered by HSI in New York subsequent to Youn’s arrest. Amato, 50, was subsequently arrested in February on charges of making false statements and for transporting and selling the artifact.

According to the HSI investigation, Amato, the owner of Midwest Auction Galleries, sold the currency plate in 2010 to Youn for $35,000. Amato sold the plate on behalf of the family of a deceased American serviceman, who reportedly brought it back to Michigan after a tour of duty in the Korean War.

While the item was listed for sale and before Youn’s purchase, Amato and Youn were contacted by officials with the Korean Embassy and the U.S. State Department, and advised that the sale of the item could be in violation of the National Stolen Property Act.

After the sale, HSI launched an investigation into the item, which experts believe is one of three Hojo currency plates still in existence from the 1890s. The currency plates ushered in modern currency printing methods in Korea.

To avoid criminal prosecutions, both men entered into agreements with the government forfeiting their claims to the currency plate. Youn, a Korean native who was illegally present in the United States, agreed to voluntarily depart the country and returned to his native country July 31.

Amato entered into an agreement for pretrial diversion and has satisfactorily met the following conditions: 90-days of supervised release; payment of $35,000; and 40 hours of community service.

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