National / Crime & Legal

South Korean plaintiffs may seek seizure of Mitsubishi Heavy assets in Europe over wartime forced labor

Kyodo

A team of lawyers representing South Korean plaintiffs who won a case against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. over wartime forced labor is considering seeking a seizure of the Japanese manufacturer’s assets in Europe, one of them has said.

The lawyers last week filed a request with a South Korean court to seize Mitsubishi Heavy’s assets in South Korea after the company continued to reject talks despite a Supreme Court ruling ordering compensation for forced labor during World War II.

The anticipated claim in Europe reflects the sense among the lawyers that the requested asset seizure in South Korea may fall short in value of the damages awarded to the plaintiffs, according to lawyer Kim Jong-hui.

The November ruling and other similar decisions in South Korean courts over the past several months have soured already strained ties between Japan and South Korea. One Japanese company has already faced a court-approved seizure of its assets in South Korea.

The lawyers believe it is possible to obtain approval for seizure from a court in the European country where it intends to have Mitsubishi Heavy’s assets seized, Kim said at a rally held in Nagoya on Sunday by a civic group that supports the plaintiffs in the case.

In November, South Korea’s top court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy to pay 89-year-old Yang Gum-dok and four other plaintiffs a total of 560 million won ($494,000) for forced labor.

But the company has refused to compensate the victims or hold talks with their lawyers, in line with the Japanese government’s position.

Tokyo maintains that the issue of claims stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has already been settled under an accord signed alongside a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea.

The lawyers on Thursday asked the Seoul Central District Court to seize the rights to two trademarks and six patents owned by Mitsubishi Heavy in South Korea.

The lawyers plan to convert the seized assets into cash and pass that to the plaintiffs as soon as possible if the court approves their request. But it remains unclear when they may be able to do so, or how much they will be able to get.

That has prompted the lawyers to look for other assets held by the company in South Korea and prepare to file additional suits there, while also considering seeking the seizure of assets in Europe, Kim said.

According to court rulings, the plaintiffs were made to work at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries factory in Nagoya toward the end of World War II.