A South Korean court has seized the local assets of a Japanese company in order to compensate four South Koreans who were forced into labor during Japan's brutal colonial rule of the peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
A district court in the southeastern city of Pohang on Wednesday approved a request by the plaintiffs to freeze more than 80,000 shares of a joint venture between Japan's Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and South Korean steelmaker POSCO.
South Korea's Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in last October ordering Nippon Steel to pay nearly $90,000 to each of the four plaintiffs. But Nippon refused to comply, citing a 1965 treaty that formally normalized bilateral ties between Seoul and Tokyo. The treaty included $800 million in reparations paid by Japan in the form of economic aid and loans.
But the Supreme Court has ruled that the treaty does not prevent individuals from seeking compensation from Japanese companies involved in the forced labor practices of the time.
Japan's Foreign Ministry summoned South Korean envoy Lee Su-hoon to lodge a formal protest over Wednesday's ruling. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters the decision was "extremely regrettable," and that Tokyo will seek formal talks with Seoul over the matter.
Lawyers for South Koreans forced into wartime labor have taken legal steps to seize the South Korean assets of a Japanese company they are trying to pressure into obeying a court ruling to provide them compensation.
Lawyer Lim Jae-sung said Thursday the court in the city of Pohang could decide in two or three weeks whether to accept the request to seize the 2.34 million shares Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.
South Korea's Supreme Court issued a similar ruling last November against Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Japan has warned that it could appeal the matter to an international court.Japan's 35-year colonial occupation has left a bitter legacy among South Koreans, with hundreds of thousands subjected to numerous atrocities, including the so-called "comfort women" who were forced into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels.