S Korean forced labourers seek Japanese asset seizure

SEOUL (AFP) – Lawyers for South Korean victims of Tokyo’s wartime forced labour have sought the seizure of a Japanese steelmaker’s assets, they said yesterday.

The two neighbours are both democracies, market economies and US allies, but their relationship is heavily coloured by historical and territorial issues, largely stemming from Tokyo’s brutal 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

According to official Seoul data, around 780,000 Koreans were conscripted into forced labour by Japan during the 35-year occupation, not including the women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops.

After a 21-year legal battle, four South Korean plaintiffs – only one of whom is still alive – won a ruling from the country’s Supreme Court in October that Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal (NSSM) should pay each of them 100 million won (USD89,000).

They said they were forced to work at its steel mills between 1941 and 1943.

Four South Korean plaintiffs were awarded 100 million won each for forced labour, though only one of them is still alive. – AFP

The ruling drew the ire of Tokyo, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe describing the decision as “impossible”.

Japan says all historical compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty that re-established diplomatic relations and included a reparations package of about USD800 million in grants and cheap loans.

NSSM had failed to comply with the ruling, the victims’ lawyers said in a statement to AFP, so they sought a court order on Monday for the seizure of its shares in PNR, a joint venture with South Korean steelmaker Posco.

The Japanese steelmaker had displayed an “inhumane attitude and indifference” to the court order, the lawyers said, adding the victims had been seeking justice “for more than 70 years”.

NSSM is estimated to own 2.34 million shares in Pohang-based PNR, worth 11 billion won, according to Yonhap news agency.