Five South Korean men have been arrested for stealing two treasured Buddhist statues from Japan as part of a suspected “cultural treasure smuggling ring”.

The statues of Tathagata Buddha from Kaijinjinja shrine and a seated statue of the Kanzeon Bodhisattva from Kannonji temple, stolen in October, have been confiscated and are currently being held by the Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea, Asahi Shimbun reports.

According to officials at the Daejeon Metropolitan Police Agency, eight individuals were believed to be involved in the theft and smuggling of the bronze standing statues – both considered important cultural properties of the Japanese government and Nagasaki Prefecture – from the island which lies in straits between the Japanese mainland the Korean Peninsula.

The suspects smuggled the two statues by sea from Fukuoka to Busan and were seeking to sell them at outrageously high prices, police said.

Japanese authorities will authenticate the artworks and they will be returned to their homes at the request of Japanese officials.