SEOUL – A South Korean court on Monday approved a request to seize Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.’s assets in South Korea after the company refused to compensate Koreans who had won a case against it over wartime forced labor, a team of lawyers for the plaintiffs said.
The decision by the district court in Daejeon followed a South Korean Supreme Court ruling last year that ordered the major Japanese manufacturer to compensate those forced to work for the firm during World War II.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is the second Japanese company to be hit with such a move, after a South Korean court approved in January the seizure of assets held by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate Koreans for conscripted labor during World War II.
Sought for asset seizure in the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries case were the rights to two trademarks and six patents owned by the company in South Korea, which the lawyers appraised to be worth about 800 million won (¥77.77 million).
The assets would go toward compensating four of the five plaintiffs in the case, which included former members of the so-called Korean Women’s Volunteer Labor Corps.
Rulings in South Korean courts against Japanese firms over wartime labor and subsequent legal moves such as the asset seizures have soured already tense ties between Japan and South Korea.
The latest legal development is likely to draw criticism from the Japanese government, which maintains that the issue of claims stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has already been settled as part of a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties with South Korea.
In its Nov. 29 ruling, the top court had ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay damages to several groups of Koreans after finding that the right of victims of forced labor to seek compensation was not annulled by an accord that was signed alongside the 1965 treaty.
One of the groups consisted of five plaintiffs, including former members of the so-called Korean Women’s Volunteer Labor Corps.
According to the court rulings, the women were made to work at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries factory in Nagoya toward the end of World War II.
After the company continued to reject compensation talks for several months — during which time one of the plaintiffs died, in January — the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a request on March 7 to seize the rights to two trademarks and six patents owned by the company in South Korea.
The Daejeon District Court will send its decision to the Korean Intellectual Property Office, one of the lawyers said, adding that there are only a few small steps left for the property office to take before the seizure takes effect.
A civic group supporting the plaintiffs in the case said in a statement that procedural steps would be taken to sell the assets unless Mitsubishi Heavy Industries shows a “sincere” attitude toward adhering to the court’s ruling.
In mid-March, senior Foreign Ministry officials from both countries held talks in Seoul with the aim of bridging their differences over the issue, but the meeting ended without any progress.