BEIJING, April 8 (Xinhua) -- Three people are in police custody in Beijing for stealing a pair of 400-year-old candle holders from the Ming imperial tombs, local authorities said Saturday.
The suspects -- two people from Beijing and one from central China's Henan Province -- have been implicated in organized relic theft, Beijing police said.
The mausoleums were built for the emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). The missing white marble candle holders, which were about 90 centimeters tall and weighed 200 kilograms each, belong in front of the mausoleum of the last Ming emperor Chongzhen.
According to a police officer who declined to be named, the candle holders went missing in May but officials tried to cover up their absence by saying they had been sent for repairs.
The candle holders were a hot topic online last month when a visitor shared contrasting photographs of the tombs. In the newer images, two vases and an incense burner were still there but the candle holders, which were visible in older photographs, were gone, leaving only their bases.
A media official with Changping government told Xinhua that the Ming Tombs Special Area Agency admitted on March 20 that the candle holders had gone missing.
Four officials were sacked for "incompetence" Thursday.
The investigation continues.
About 40 kilometers north of downtown Beijing, the Ming Tombs were listed as UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003.