Airport Cleaner Finds $325,000 of Gold Bars in Trash—and He Could Get to Keep Them

A cleaner at South Korea's Incheon International Airport made a discovery that could change his life. 

The man, whose full name was not revealed in the South Korean press, found seven gold bars worth 350 million won (approximately $325,000) in a trash can last week and, within six months, he could become the lawful owner of the treasure.

The cleaner immediately alerted the airport's customs authorities upon finding the gold bars, each of which weighed 1 kilogram, wrapped in newspapers near in a tax-free area of the departure terminal. The police have identified a Korean man as being the owner of the gold and two other men as those who discarded the gold bars in the trash fearing custom control, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. 

05_02_Gold_Bar An employee poses for photographs with a one kilogram gold bar at the Korea Gold Exchange in Seoul, South Korea, July 31, 2015. An airport cleaner found seven gold bars worth more than $325,000 in a bin. Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Police believe that the men traveled from Hong Kong—where there is no tax imposed on purchases of gold—to Japan through South Korea thinking it would be easier to bypass custom checks. A police source told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper that it is common for criminals to smuggle gold into Japan through South Korea—a crime that has been on the rise since Japan increased the tax on goods purchased abroad from 5 to 8 percent in April 2014.

In January, seven South Korean women were caught smuggling gold to Japan after an x-ray scan detected a number of metal blocks each weighing 200 grams in their abdomen, Japan's Asahi newspaper reported at the time.

The investigation will now have to ascertain that the gold isn't connected to criminal activity. If that's the case and if the owner of the ingots does not come forward to claim them, the cleaner will be able to claim the discovery as his legitimate property thanks to the country's "finders keepers" law on lost and found items, according to The Korea Times.

Even if the gold bars owners claim his treasure, under South Korean law the cleaner could still be awarded between 5 and 20 percent of its market value, ranging from $16,000 to $65,000.