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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

S. Korea court OKs seizure of M’bishi Heavy assets over wartime labor

  • March 25, 2019
  • , Kyodo News , 6:01 p.m.
  • English Press

SEOUL/TOKYO — A South Korean court approved on Monday a request to seize Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. assets in South Korea after the company refused to compensate Koreans who had won a wartime labor case against it, a team of lawyers for the plaintiffs said.


The decision by the district court in Daejeon follows a South Korean Supreme Court ruling last year ordering the major Japanese manufacturer to compensate those forced to work for it during World War II.


Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is the second Japanese company to be hit with such a move, further straining ties between Japan and South Korea that have been marred by bitter memories of wartime aggression.


In January, a South Korean court approved the seizure of assets held by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate Koreans for conscripted labor during the war.


Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Monday called the latest development “extremely serious” and reiterated the country’s demand to launch intergovernmental talks on the matter based on a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties with South Korea.


The Japanese government maintains that the issue of claims stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has already been settled as part of the 1965 treaty.


Approved for asset seizure in the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries case were the rights to two trademarks and six patents owned by the company in South Korea, which the lawyers appraised to be worth about 800 million won ($705,000).


The assets would go toward compensating four of the five plaintiffs in the case, including former members of the Korean Women’s Volunteer Labor Corps.


The Daejeon District Court will send its decision to the Korean Intellectual Property Office, one of the lawyers said, adding there are only a few small steps left for the property office to take before the seizure takes effect.


A civic group supporting the plaintiffs in the case said in a statement that procedural steps would be taken to sell the assets unless Mitsubishi Heavy Industries shows a “sincere” attitude toward adhering to the court’s ruling.


In its Nov. 29 ruling, the top court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay damages to groups of Koreans after finding that the right of victims of forced labor to seek compensation was not annulled by the accord that was signed alongside the 1965 treaty.


One of the groups consisted of five plaintiffs, including former members of the Korean Women’s Volunteer Labor Corps. According to court rulings, the women were made to work at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries factory in Nagoya toward the end of World War II.


After a period of months in which the company continued rejecting compensation talks — during which one of the plaintiffs died, in January — the plaintiffs’ lawyers on March 7 filed a request with a court to seize the rights to two trademarks and six patents owned by the company in South Korea.


In mid-March, senior Foreign Ministry officials from both countries also held talks in Seoul to bridge their differences over the issue, but the meeting ended without yielding any progress.

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