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[Newsmaker] Court order takes effect, allowing seizure of assets to pay victims of Japanese wartime forced labor

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Yonhap)
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Yonhap)
Diplomatic tensions between South Korea and Japan are likely to worsen after a court order took effect Tuesday, mandating that the local assets of a Japanese firm be sold off to compensate victims of forced labor.

At the start of Tuesday, a public notice issued by the Daejeon District Court went into effect authorizing the seizure of assets held in South Korea by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

This would fulfill a November 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court ordering the company to provide between 100 million won ($91,560) and 150 million won to five plaintiffs who were forced to work in its factories during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

When Mitsubishi Heavy Industries took no action after the decision, the plaintiffs filed a motion with the Daejeon District Court asking for some of the Japanese firm’s local assets to be seized and put up for auction as a means to collect the sums awarded to them by the top court.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is required to pay a total of 804 million won to four plaintiffs, as one of the original five died in January 2019. In March 2019 the Daejeon court ordered the seizure of the company’s rights to two trademarks and six patents, and it announced its decision in four separate notices.

Of the four notices, two went into effect Tuesday and the rest are scheduled to begin Wednesday at the start of the day.

Once seized, the assets would have to be evaluated before auctions could proceed, and it would take months before the victims could receive their due compensation.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced on Tuesday that it intends to appeal the court order. This is likely to stall compensation and kick off another series of legal proceedings.

The company has disputed the Supreme Court ruling, arguing that all reparations issues relate to colonial rule were settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

The Tuesday notice adds fuel to the prolonged conflict between Seoul and Tokyo over wartime forced labor and other rights violations during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Earlier this month the Daegu District Court struck down an appeal filed by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal against a ruling that its assets should be seized to compensate victims of wartime forced labor.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court ordered the Japanese company to pay 100 million won each to four South Koreans for their forced and unpaid work during World War II.

International relations experts had already warned that the two sides could struggle in terms of diplomacy as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was expected to follow the same stance as his predecessor Shinzo Abe, maintaining Abe’s hard-line stance toward Seoul rather than seeking a policy shift.

The potential conflict also comes as South Korea seeks to host a trilateral summit with Japan and China in the near future and hopes to cooperate with Japan on making diplomatic progress with Pyongyang.

Japan and South Korea are also under pressure to mend ties ahead of the launch of the Joe Biden administration in the United States next month. Biden has stressed the need for US allies to cooperate closely and support the US’ global leadership.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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