The 70-year-old Namdaemun arsonist, who is being held for setting fire to the 600-year-old Namdaemun or South Gate on Sunday night, is a repeat offender.
Investigators said Chae, who was given a suspended sentence for setting fire to the Munjeongjeon Hall in Changgyeong Palace in April 2006, confessed to burning down the historic structure.
The septuagenarian’s initial target was Jongmyo, a Confucian shrine dedicated to memorial services for the deceased kings and queens of the Chosun Dynasty. But the excellent security surrounding the area prevented Chae from carrying out his plan. Thus, he chose Namdaemun after figuring out that the other alternative of setting fire to public transportation such as trains would cause casualties.
A lawbreaker with a conscience? Whoa.
According to the police, this was how Chae burnt Namdaemun down:
- 70-year-old climbs the western sloping wall of the ancient city gate at 8.45pm
- Using an aluminium ladder, he breaks into the 2nd floor of the gate
- He pries open one of three 1.5-litre plastic bottles of paint thinner
- Pours out the content onto the floor and
- (With an evil laugh, perhaps?) Sets it ablaze with a disposable lighter
Chae admitted that he committed the arson to attract public attention to his outrage at the insufficient compensation he received from the government when it claimed his land for redevelopment in 1997.
In a letter Chae wrote, he said: “I have filed several petitions concerning wrongdoings against me, but the government has never listened to my grievances.”
He also called for “judges who always take sides with conglomerates” to be “got rid of,” and insisted that he was falsely charged with the Changgyeong Palace arson. He claimed that he just happened to be near the site of the fire at that time.
He added: “(Lawyers) told me several times to make false confessions. The government is killing the underprivileged. I feel aggrieved and victimised.”
Now, experts are concerned that this latest high-profile crime will encourage copycats.
Lee Yoon-ho, a professor at the Police Administration Department of Dongguk University, said: “Arson can be easily used by anybody as a weapon to express anger, given that it’s easy to commit anytime and anywhere, requires no special technology or equipment, and it’s easy to destroy evidence.
“Arson should be treated more harshly than violent crime given how common recidivism and copycat crimes are,” he added.