Palace Museum suspect on trial

Updated: 2012-02-18 08:01

(China Daily)

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BEIJING - A Beijing court began hearing on Friday the case of a man suspected of stealing more than 1 million yuan ($158,800) in artifacts from the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City.

Shi Bokui, a 27-year-old farmer from Caoxian county, East China's Shandong province, appeared in Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court to face charges that he had stolen nine artifacts from the museum in May, China National Radio reported.

Court documents said Shi was stopped by a security guard before he fled the scene of the crime.

The farmer, who has a criminal record for larceny, admitted to stealing from the museum but denied that he had planned to commit the theft. He said he had been visiting the Palace Museum and a rainstorm broke out, prompting him to seek shelter in a seldom-used pathway, the radio network reported.

"I found a power switch in a power distribution room, and I turned it off just out of curiosity," he told the court, according to China National Radio. "I didn't know the entire alarm system would stop working if you switched it off."

Prosecutors refused to accept his explanation.

The prosecutors in the case said the total value of the stolen items was 1.6 million yuan ($254,000), and "the facts are clear and the evidence is certain". They called for Shi to receive a prison sentence of between 13 and 15 years.

The artifacts he is accused of stealing include small, gold purses and cosmetics containers covered with jewels, all of them made between 1920 and 1945. They were on loan from the private Hong Kong Liangyi Museum.

Shi was arrested on June 1 after his fingerprints had been found at an Internet bar in Beijing's Fengtai district. The fingerprints matched fingerprints discovered at the crime scene, according to police.

Police have recovered six of the stolen artifacts. The three remaining pieces together have an insured value of 150,000 yuan.