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Court gives N. Koreans right to assets left by father in South

Four North Koreans from the same family have come to share assets left by their late father with their half-brothers and sisters in South Korea under mediation by a Seoul court in the first case of its kind.

The North Koreans, surnamed Yoon, had filed a lawsuit against their South Korean stepmother and four half-brothers and sisters in February 2009 demanding they split 10 billion won ($9.35 million) worth of assets left by their father who died in the South.

The Seoul Central District Court on Tuesday said the South Korean family agreed to give part of the disputed real estate from their father to the North Koreans along with some of their inherited assets in cash.

The court did not announce the exact amount of assets owed to the North Koreans, citing an agreement between the two sides not to disclose details of the deal mediated by the court.

Several groups of North Koreans have filed similar lawsuits at South Korean courts as the country’s Constitution considers the entire Korean Peninsula as its national territory. But the group involved in Tuesday’s agreement became the first to win partial ownership of assets left by a relative who defected to the South.

The father, who ran a hospital in North Korea, crossed the border to the South right after the Korean War began in 1950, taking only his eldest daughter with him. He had four other children with his South Korean wife and died in 1987.

The eldest daughter later found her North Korean family with the help of an American missionary who traveled between the two Koreas. The family sent letters of attorney, videotapes with their images and hair samples to the sister in the South via the missionary. Based on the materials, the North Koreans filed two lawsuits with South Korean courts ― one asking for a split of the father’s leftover assets and the other seeking court confirmation of their biological relationship with the father.

Last year, the Seoul Family Court acknowledged the blood relationship between the four North Koreans and the deceased, citing DNA test results. But the South Korean family appealed the decision.

The North Koreans are thought to have delegated the authority to manage the real estate and money from their father to their eldest biological sister in the South.

The North Koreans’ lawyer Bae Geum-ja confirmed that there will be no cross-border transmission of the assets.

To cope with possible property disputes between South and North Koreans, Seoul’s Justice Ministry said it plans to legislate a law restricting North Koreans from taking their share of inherited assets out of the South even if they are granted ownership. 

(Yonhap News)
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