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Fun on Friday: Finder Weeper, the Gold Wasn’t a Keeper

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A South Korean custodian made quite a find while emptying a garbage can at the Incheon International Airport last week. Inside the bin, the cleaner found seven gold bars wrapped in newspaper valued at $330,000.

That’s one heck of a good day’s at work, right? Bonus! Right?

Nope. Not so fast. As it turns out, the cleaner probably won’t get a dime, despite a South Korean “finders keepers” law. 

Under that “Lost Article Act,” if an owner doesn’t claim lost property within six months, the finder gets to take ownership. According to a BBC report, the cleaner would have been eligible to claim between 5-20% of the gold’s total price, a maximum of 70 million won ($65,000) under the law.

Notice the words “would have been.” Unfortunately for the cleaner, an employee isn’t eligible to take advantage of this law. Airport officials said the cleaner won’t be able to receive any reward because they were “working as airport staff and it is a part of the cleaner’s job to find lost things.”

OK. I’m calling BS on that statement. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts if you look at the cleaner’s job description it says nothing about “finding lost things.” It likely requires cleaning toilets. Obviously, it involves emptying trash bins. But I seriously doubt the words “finding lost things” show up in this mythical job description.

I don’t think the job interview went like this.

Future boss – “So, you’ll be OK cleaning bathrooms and emptying out nasty trash bins, right?”

Future cleaner – “Sure, no problem. That’s what cleaners do. I’m a cleaning pro. Plus, I have no sense of smell.”

Future boss – “What about finding lost things?”

Future cleaning – ” Well … that’s a tough one. But, yeah. I think I’ll be OK finding lost things.”

Nope. Finding things is not part of a cleaner’s job description. Unless you mean finding things to clean. I’ll give you that.

Now, a lot of you good folks reading this are gold investors. That means you’re probably a bit contrarian and probably pretty analytical. You’re reading this and thinking, well, Mike, finding lost things is technically one aspect of airport cleaning duties. After all, people lose things in airports all the time. And, as a cleaner, you will be finding these things along the way. While perhaps not stated explicitly, finding lost things is implicit in janitorial duties.

Sheesh. You should have been a lawyer.

OK. I’ll concede your point.

And I can understand why they might not want to give the janitor $65,000. But nothing at all? No reward? OK. Fine. Finding lost things is part of the job. How about giving the dude (or dudette) a bonus for his excellent work? That would be within the realm of an employment contract, right?

And here’s another thing. The gold wasn’t lost. Somebody tossed it in the garbage. You don’t accidentally “lose” seven gold bars in the trash can.

“Huh, I wonder where my gold bars went? I seem to have misplaced them. Oops.”

No. That doesn’t happen.

(Actually, it does happen. Remember the guy who stuck his gold in a folder and lost it?)

There was a funny side-bar in the BBC article.

“Currently, there is no proof that the gold is connected to criminal activity.”

But earlier in the article, we learn, “police suspect that their original owner threw [the gold bars] away in a hurry because he risked being caught.”

Huh? Being caught for what? If the gold wasn’t connected to criminal activity, why did somebody pitch it in a trash bin? Why would they fear getting caught? I’m sorry, I don’t throw my perfectly legal gold bars in the trash. Isn’t the fact that somebody pitched gold bars in the garbage count as proof that it was connected to some kind of nefarious activity?

OK. If we’re going to get all technical again – perhaps that’s not proof. But certainly, close enough for government work.

Anyway, the bottom line is I feel sorry for the cleaner. I get it. Legally, she (or he) has no claim. But seriously, toss her a little bonus. She was honest enough to turn the gold bars in, right? I think the custodian should at least get a little jingle for her (or his) honesty. The cleaner probably deserves a bonus anyway. Check out the photo of the airport. That place is immaculate! The cleaners there do good work.

There is a lesson here. Sometimes you can find treasures in the garbage. But if you want gold bars, I don’t recommend digging through airport trash bins. You should probably just call 1-888-GOLD-160 instead and talk to our precious metals specialists. They can hook you up. And you won’t have to rummage through old banana peels and dirty diapers to get them.

Fun on Friday is a weekly SchiffGold feature. We dig up some of the off-the-wall and off-beat stories relating to precious metals, politics and the economy and share them with you – with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Click here to read other posts in this series.

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