National / Politics

Lawyers seize Nachi-Fujikoshi assets in South Korea over wartime labor case

Kyodo

A team of lawyers representing Korean plaintiffs in an ongoing wartime labor case against Japanese machinery manufacturer Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp. said Tuesday that based on a court decision they have seized assets in South Korea owned by the company.

The assets were the company’s stake in an affiliated company in South Korea, which the lawyers say would cover possible compensation for 23 plaintiffs in the case. The value of the stake is estimated at 765 million won (¥74.3 million).

The case is still pending a ruling by the Supreme Court after the plaintiffs, all former members of the so-called Korean Women’s Volunteer Labor Corps, won at district- and appeals-court levels.

South Korean courts have also approved the seizure of assets held by two other Japanese companies over wartime labor cases, steel-maker Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. and manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

But those seizures were approved to proceed after the South Korean Supreme Court ruled against the two companies last year and ordered them to compensate Korean plaintiffs for forced labor during World War II.

On March 15, Ulsan District Court decided to freeze Nachi-Fujikoshi’s stake in Daesung-Nachi Hydraulics Co. based on a lawyers’ request, according to a statement.

The lawyers also said they have seized additional assets held by Nippon Steel in South Korea that are worth 568 million won to compensate plaintiffs in the case involving that company.

In January, a district court in Daegu approved seizure procedures for a stake worth 405 million won owned by Nippon Steel in a joint venture with South Korean steel-maker POSCO.

The lawyers said, however, that they would seek to hold negotiations with the Japanese companies before actually selling the seized assets.

The plaintiffs in the Nachi-Fujikoshi case claim they were brought to Japan from the Korean Peninsula — then under Japanese colonial rule — under false pretenses and forced to work at the firm’s munitions factory in Toyama without adequate food.

Tuesday’s announcement came the day after a group of lawyers supporting plaintiffs in cases against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said South Korea’s intellectual property office had obtained the company’s rights to two trademarks and six patents, based on a court decision.

The rulings and subsequent legal steps against Japanese companies have further strained bilateral ties that have been marred by bitter memories of Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

The Japanese firms entangled in wartime labor cases in South Korea have refused to engage in talks with plaintiffs’ lawyers over compensation.

The Japanese government maintains that the issue of claims stemming from the nation’s decadeslong colonial rule has already been settled as part of a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties between Tokyo and Seoul.