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Court orders Nippon Steel to compensate Korean ex-laborers

An appellant court on Wednesday ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate four former Korean employees forced into labor during Japan’s colonial rule.

In a retrial, the Seoul High Court ruled that the steel giant (formerly Nippon Steel Corp.) should pay 100 million won ($88,000) each in delayed salary, and additional damages.

“Then a key defense contractor, Nippon Steel committed anti-humanitarian, illegal acts together with the Japanese government such as mobilizing manpower for an aggressive war,” the verdict said.

“War of aggression runs against not only the international order and Korea’s Constitution but also that of today’s Japan.”

The four suitors including a 90-year-old surnamed Yeo and an 87-year-old surnamed Shin lodged a collective suit in Seoul against the Tokyo-based steelmaker in 2005, seeking 100 million won per person in withheld wages and compensation for illegal acts.

They said they were conscripted as teens and worked at the Japanese firm’s plants in Osaka and elsewhere without decent salary between 1941 and 1943.

Yeo and Shin separately filed a similar case in Osaka in 1997 but lost eventually in 2003.

Seoul’s district and appellate courts initially dismissed the four people’s claims in light of the Japanese rulings and a change in Nippon Steel’s corporate structure.

In a landmark move, the Supreme Court overturned the rulings and sent the case back to the high court in May 2012, calling the Japanese decision a “direct challenge to the core values of the Korean Constitution that regards forcible mobilization during the occupation as illegal in itself.”

It acknowledged the former laborers’ individual right to seek compensation for the first time, saying it was not nullified by a 1965 settlement between the two countries on wartime claims.

The Korean government maintains that the victims are entitled to pursue compensation both on a governmental and individual basis.

That same month, the top court also ruled in favor of another group of five Koreans claiming compensation from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

Upon the 2000 filing, they demanded that the engineering and aviation conglomerate pay back wages and compensation for their forced work from 1941-44.

The Busan High Court is scheduled to hand down the ruling of the retrial on July 30.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, almost 227,000 Koreans have reported their forced labor in Japan. Some scholars project that the number of forced workers between April 1938 and Korea’s liberation in August 1945 may have reached 8 million.

In another development, a Seoul court on Wednesday ordered a Japanese activist to provide compensation for defaming a late Korean independence fighter.

Last September, Nobuyuki Suzuki planted a wooden stake claiming Tokyo’s ownership over the Korean islets of Dokdo beside a monument set up in central Japan to honor Yun Bong-gil, who was executed there in 1932 for his attempts to assassinate Japanese leaders during its 1910-45 colonization of the peninsula.

The Seoul Central District Court ordered Suzuki to pay Yun’s family 10 million won in compensation for emotional injury.

The ultra-right activist also faces more civil and criminal trials here for vandalism in Seoul and Tokyo against history-related memorials and former Korean sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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