National / Crime & Legal

South Korean lawyers to start sale of Nippon Steel's assets over wartime labor

Kyodo

Lawyers representing South Koreans seeking reparations from Japanese steel-maker Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. over wartime labor issues declared Friday they will soon start the process of liquidating the company’s seized assets.

The move came after the lawyers, who are now in Japan, were rebuffed by Nippon Steel when they sought to hold talks on compensation the company has been asked to pay in line with a South Korean top court ruling in October.

“It’s regrettable that we could not even see the faces of (Nippon Steel) officials in charge of this matter even though we have made visits three times since last year” to the steel-maker’s headquarters in central Tokyo, said Lim Jae-sung, one of the lawyers.

They said they will start the liquidation process as soon as they return to South Korea.

The declaration is set to draw a fierce protest from Tokyo, which takes the position that the issue of claims stemming from Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has been settled under a bilateral accord signed alongside a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties.

The government has called on firms not to agree to compensate the plaintiffs, while requesting that Seoul come up with measures to protect the business activities of Japanese companies in South Korea and launch consultations to resolve the issue.

On Thursday, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga expressed grave concerns over the plan to liquidate the seized assets of the steel-maker.

“We take the situation extremely seriously as the plaintiffs’ move advances while the South Korean government has still not taken concrete steps to correct the state of violating the bilateral accord,” Suga said at a news conference in Tokyo.

South Korean courts have in recent months granted compensation to plaintiffs in wartime forced labor cases involving Japanese firms. In Nippon Steel’s case, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that ordered the company to pay four South Koreans 100 million won (¥9.76 million; $88,600) each.

In the wake of the ruling the plaintiffs moved to seize the company’s assets in South Korea, leading a court to approve the seizure of shares it held in a joint venture with South Korean steel-maker Posco.