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[Newsmaker] Mitsubishi refuses to discuss compensation for wartime forced labor

The liquidation of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Korean assets is likely to be expedited as it has refused to hold talks on compensation for victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor, according to sources Tuesday.

A civic group working with the victims said that the Japanese firm had not responded to the victims’ request for discussions to follow up on the South Korean Supreme Court’s order that it compensate them by the Monday deadline.


“Having lost the lawsuit, Mitsubishi is now hiding behind the Japanese government and has ignored our demands,” the civic group said.

“It is deeply regrettable that our efforts to find reasonable solutions through dialogue for improved Korea-Japan relations have fallen through.”

One of the plaintiffs, Lee Young-sook, died of old age on Sunday. As many of the victims are in poor health, the civic group stressed that the “procedures set by the law cannot be delayed any longer.”

“The execution (of the court order) has been postponed as we have requested for consultations for over half a year after the ruling was finalized. But Mitsubishi has not even expressed regret,” the group said, adding they will soon file for a court order to liquidate its assets in Korea.

In November last year, the Supreme Court upheld two lower court rulings -- one that ordered Mitsubishi to award 100 million won ($84,975) to 120 million won each to five plaintiffs, including 87-year-old Yang Geum-duk and a victim’s family member, and another that ordered it to pay 80 million won each to six other forced labor victims.

As Mitsubishi has refused to comply with the court rulings, a local court approved the seizure of its two trademark and six patent rights.

Ahead of taking steps to liquidate its assets, the plaintiffs demanded consultations with the company three times.

As for Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal, another Japanese company that was ordered to compensate the Koreans forced to work for it during World War II, procedures are underway to liquidate its local assets, but it will take some time as it has not yet received the related documents.

The National Court Administration said on Tuesday that the documents were sent on July 8, but Nippon Steel has not yet received them.

If the company does not respond within 60 days after the documents are sent, the court can decide whether to approve the sale of assets without questioning.

The Pohang branch of Daegu District Court has authorized the seizure of Nippon Steel’s Korean assets at the request of the victims -- 194,794 shares (worth 970 million won) in Posco-Nippon Steel RHF, also known as PNR.

During World War II, hundreds of thousands of Koreans were mobilized as forced laborers by the Japanese military to toil under dangerous working conditions without being compensated.

Lee, who died Sunday, was one of the plaintiffs who took legal action against the Japanese firms.

In May 1944, when she was in high school, she was sent to work at an aircraft plant run by Mitsubishi in Nagoya, Japan.

The company’s recruiters allegedly promised that they would financially help Lee finish her studies, but she never received any wages for painting the aircraft components.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono said at a press conference Tuesday that should Japanese companies incur damages, necessary measures must be sought, in an apparent reference to the possibility of liquidation of Mitsubishi’s assets, Yonhap News Agency reported, quoting Japan’s Kyodo News. He was also reported to have said that the Japanese government would strongly object to the Korean government for claiming damages.

By Kim So-hyun (