National / Crime & Legal

South Korean court upholds ruling against Mitsubishi Heavy over forced wartime labor in Japan

Kyodo, Reuters

A South Korean high court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to pay compensation to South Koreans conscripted as laborers during World War II, when Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula.

The Gwangju High Court told the Japanese company to pay a total of 470 million won (about $422,000) to three female former workers and a bereaved family member of a deceased female worker.

In August 2017, the Gwangju District Court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy to pay the compensation. The company appealed to the high court.

The plaintiffs said they were promised opportunities to study and earn money but were instead put to work at a wartime munitions factory in Nagoya in central Japan during the war.

Wednesday’s court decision is the latest in a string of rulings in favor of those made to work for Japanese firms, following a landmark May 2012 decision by South Korea’s Supreme Court. In its 2012 ruling, the top court ruled that the right of individuals to seek compensation was not invalidated by the 1965 Japan-South Korea accord that Tokyo claims settled all postwar compensation claims “completely and finally.” The treaty also established diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The South Korea’s Supreme Court last week ordered Mitsubishi Heavy to compensate two groups of South Koreans over wartime labor, in a move that Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, decried as “extremely regrettable.”

In October the top court ruled similarly against Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.

On Tuesday, lawyers representing South Korean plaintiffs in the case against Nippon Steel said they have set a Dec. 24 deadline for the firm to show willingness to discuss a court verdict on compensation.

If the firm fails to respond, the lawyers, who spoke after being denied a meeting with company officials for a second time on Tuesday, said they would start procedures to seize its South Korean assets.

Tuesday’s incident stemmed from a ruling by South Korea’s Supreme Court late in October that Nippon Steel must pay 100 million won ($90,500) to each of four South Koreans for forced labor during the war.

At the time of the ruling, Nippon Steel called it “extremely regrettable,” but added that it would review the decision carefully in considering further steps.

On Tuesday, the lawyers visited Nippon Steel’s Tokyo headquarters for a second time, only to be turned away at reception, said Lim Jae-sung, one of the attorneys.

The lawyers left documents at reception regarding the case, Lim told a briefing at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Lim said two options for seizing Nippon Steel’s assets include shares of PNR, a joint venture between Nippon Steel and South Korean steel company POSCO, and intellectual property the company owns in South Korea.

The Japanese firm confirmed that it refused to meet the lawyers because its stance has not changed, a company spokeswoman said, adding that the company had received a letter, although she did not comment on the contents.

Asked about the Dec. 24 deadline, the spokeswoman said the company would consult the Japanese government and take appropriate action.