S. Korean court begins process to sell assets of Japanese firm involved in wartime forced labor

South Korean protesters hold up cards during a rally to mark the South Korean Liberation Day from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, in Seoul, South Korea, on Aug. 15, 2019. The sign reads "No. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Jun 4, 2020, Yonhap. A local court has decided to begin a legal procedure that could lead to liquidating seized assets of a Japanese firm that has ignored a ruling to compensate Korean victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor, Yonhap News reported.

According to the legal representatives for four Korean plaintiffs Wednesday, the Pohang branch of Daegu District Court, in southeastern Korea, decided Monday to take the legal procedure of “delivery of public notice,” where a court ruling is considered to have been delivered to a defendant who fails to respond either purposely or with invalid address.

The decision was made as the Japanese foreign ministry has failed to pass the document containing the Korean court’s asset seizure ruling to Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.

With the decision, the delivery of the legal document will be considered effective on Aug. 4. If there is no response from the Japanese side by then, the court then can issue an order to sell off the seized assets.

The assets in question are 194,794 shares, worth around 973 million won (US$799,400), in PNR, a joint venture set up by Nippon Steel and South Korean steelmaker POSCO, which recycles byproducts from steelmaking.

In 2018, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel to pay compensation to four South Koreans for their forced labor and unpaid work during World War II. Korea was under Japan’s colonization at that time.

After the firm refused to comply with the ruling, the plaintiffs requested an asset seizure, which was approved by the court in Pohang.

The case is likely to put more strains on the already sour Seoul-Tokyo relations over a string of sensitive issues, including Seoul’s decision on Tuesday to resume its WTO complaint against Tokyo’s export restrictions on key industrial materials critical for the chip and display industries.

Japan warned that it would strongly respond to any move to liquidate the shares owned by the Japanese firm.

“In light of protecting economic activities of Japanese companies,” the government will respond to the issue with every option on the table, said Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Thursday.

The legal representatives of Korean victims welcomed the court’s latest decision but expressed regret it took too long.

“It is regrettable that one year and five months have passed since the ruling on the asset seizure was made,” they said, asking the court to move more quickly.

“The victims waited for 13 years for the court ruling starting in 2005, when they filed the lawsuit.”

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