SEOUL — A South Korean appeal court on Thursday upheld a lower-court ruling ordering Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to pay damages to a group of South Koreans over forced labor at one of its factories during World War II.
It is yet another ruling against the company over an issue that has strained ties between the two countries after top South Korean court decisions last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The Seoul High Court ruling followed the company’s appeal over a Seoul Central District Court decision in August 2016 ordering it to pay the kin of 14 former workers 90 million won ($77,850) each in damages.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the 14 Koreans were taken from the Korean Peninsula to work at a Mitsubishi Heavy machinery factory in Hiroshima from 1944, surviving the U.S. atomic bombing of that city in August 1945.
They then suffered ill-health attributable to radiation exposure from the blast even after returning home, according to the lawyers.
In a separate case, Japan’s Supreme Court in 2007 confirmed an earlier ruling that the 14 Koreans were forcibly recruited to work in Japan and exposed to atomic radiation in Hiroshima.
The lawsuit in South Korea was filed in July 2013 by one of the former workers, and the kin of the other 13, who had died.
The Japanese government takes the position the issue of compensation was settled by a 1965 accord under which Japan provided South Korea with $500 million in grants and loans.
In line with this stance, Mitsubishi Heavy, like other Japanese companies in a similar situation, has refused to compensate two groups of plaintiffs who won in South Korea’s Supreme Court last November.
As a result, a South Korean court in March approved the seizure of the manufacturer’s assets there, presumed to be worth about 800 million won, at the request of lawyers for some of the plaintiffs.
Lawyers have set a deadline of July 15 for clear action from the company toward compensating the plaintiffs, threatening further legal action over the seized assets.
Last week, South Korea said it was open to bilateral talks on the compensation issue on condition companies from both countries fund payments to the plaintiffs, awarded damages by South Korean courts.
But Japan rejected the proposal, saying it has moved on from seeking bilateral talks to an arbitration process involving other countries under the terms of the 1965 bilateral accord.