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Japan firm warned of legal step over Korean forced laborers

December 4, 2018
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Lim Jae-sung, plaintiffs' attorney, speaks as Kim Se-eun, left, plaintiffs' attorney, listens during a press conference in Tokyo, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. The two lawyers for Korean forced laborers demanded Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., a Japanese steelmaker, respond to their request to discuss compensation by Christmas, or they will take legal step to freeze its assets in their country. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (AP) — Lawyers for Korean wartime forced laborers have demanded that a Japanese steelmaker respond to their request to discuss compensation, warning they will otherwise take steps to freeze its assets in their country.

The two lawyers on Tuesday asked Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. in Tokyo to respond by 5 p.m. on Dec. 24. They said if there is no response by the deadline, they will seek to freeze part of the company’s assets in South Korea, including shares of PNR, its joint venture with Korean steelmaker POSCO.

South Korea’s top court ordered Nippon Steel to pay 100 million won ($87,680) each to four plaintiffs forced to work at the company during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The court has made similar rulings on another Japanese company, triggering disputes between the two countries.

“If we find that (the company) doesn’t want to have negotiations and communication by then, we’ll launch steps to seize its assets in South Korea within that week,” Lim Jae-Sung, one of the attorneys who visited the company to submit the request, told a news conference.

Lim said he and his colleagues have found out that Nippon Steel holds about 2.34 million PNR shares, which could be worth about 11 billion won ($9.9 million). More than 3,000 intellectual properties that Nippon Steel registered in South Korea could also be frozen, he said.

Freezing assets is not their primary goal and they’d rather have negotiations, as their ultimate goal is to get justice for the victims, Lim said. He said the only survivor among the four plaintiffs is already 94 years old. “We hope the company responds sincerely,” he said.

Japan’s government and the companies maintain all wartime compensation issues were settled by a 1965 treaty between the governments and that South Korean rulings violate international law.

Nippon Steel said that it received the lawyers’ request Tuesday but its position has not changed, and that it will consult with the government over the issue.

Last week, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered another Japanese firm, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to financially compensate 10 Koreans for forced labor.

The back-to-back rulings in South Korea are threatening to undermine relations with Japan, which has argued that the issue of forced laborers was settled when Tokyo and Seoul signed a treaty in 1965 that restored diplomatic ties. The rulings are expected to affect similar lawsuits pending in South Korean courts.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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