National / Crime & Legal

South Korean forced labor plaintiffs seek Nippon Steel asset seizure

Kyodo, JIJI

Lawyers representing South Korean plaintiffs in a wartime forced labor case said they have launched procedures to seize South Korean assets of Japanese steelmaking giant Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., according to an official statement released Wednesday.

The lawyers on Dec. 31 specifically requested the Daegu District Court to seize the company’s shares in Posco-Nippon Steel RHF Joint Venture (PNR), its strategic partnership with South Korean steelmaker Posco, according to the statement.

The Japanese steel firm owns a 30 percent stake in PNR worth about ¥1.1 trillion. The court in the country’s southeast has jurisdiction over the joint venture.

The lawyers notably did not apply for an order forcing the sale of the assets, which is often done at the same time when applying for asset seizure, indicating their desire to reach a resolution.

The move follows a ruling by South Korea’s Supreme Court in October ordering the company to pay 400 million won to four South Koreans for their forced labor during the era of Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.

After plaintiffs make such an application to a court, it will normally take about two weeks for the court to notify those whose assets are to be potentially seized, according to the lawyers.

The lawyers previously set a Dec. 24 deadline for the Japanese firm to respond to their request to begin compensation talks based on the ruling, but the firm did not do so.

“We are deeply concerned at Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.’s insincere and inhumane stance for not doing anything regarding implementation of the ruling, when the plaintiffs and their families have fought for their rights for over 70 years,” the statement said.

Lawyers added that they still seek a smooth settlement with the Japanese firm and are waiting for a response from its side as soon as possible.

After the plaintiffs announced the start of the asset seizure procedures, an official with Nippon Steel suggested that the company will not comment on the latest move. The steelmaker has consistently taken the position that it will leave the settlement of the issue to intergovernmental discussions between Japan and South Korea.

The Japanese government maintains that the issue of compensation was settled “completely and finally” in an agreement attached to a 1965 treaty that normalized ties between Japan and South Korea. It has also signaled its readiness to take countermeasures against any enforcement of the ruling, which could further worsen bilateral ties.

The Oct. 30 verdict against Nippon Steel was followed by more rulings by the South Korean top court ordering compensation payments by Japanese firms, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., over wartime labor.

On Wednesday, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in a compensation suit against Mitsubishi Heavy indicated the possibility of setting the deadline for starting asset-seizure procedures on March 1, when South Korea marks the 100th anniversary of the 1919 independence movement against Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

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