A court in east China's Fujian Province on Friday ruled in favor of local villagers demanding the return of a stolen Buddha statue from a Dutch collector.
It contains the mummified body of a Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) Buddhist monk. It had been housed in a temple in Fujian's city of Sanming and worshipped by local villagers for more than 1,000 years before it was stolen in 1995.
The villagers have been looking for the lost statue ever since and only found it when it was exhibited in Hungary in 2015. They later negotiated with the statue's holder, Oscar van Overeem from the Netherlands, for its return, but to no avail.
The Sanming Intermediate People's Court on Friday demanded the Dutch collector returns the statue to the plaintiff, the villagers committees of Yangchun and Dongpu, within 30 days.
Yangchun Village and Dongpu Village co-own the temple that stored the ancient statue.
The court verdict said it is a collectively-owned relic, handed down in the villages for generations, and thus local villagers' collective ownership is protected by law. Besides, the two villagers committees have the right to file a claim against the statue's illegal holder on behalf of local villagers.
The Sanming Intermediate People's Court registered the case in 2015 and held two public hearings of the case in 2018.
A Dutch court registered the lawsuit filed by the villagers committees in 2016, and the first Amsterdam court public hearing was held in the following year. However, the court rejected the case in December 2018, ruling that the villagers committees are not legal entities and ineligible to file a claim.
The millennium-old Buddha statue is of Zhanggong Zushi, a local man who became a monk in his 20s and earned fame for helping treat diseases and spreading Buddhist beliefs.
When he died at the age of 37, his body was mummified as he wished and placed inside the statue.