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Nachi-Fujikoshi assets in S. Korea seized over wartime labor case

Plaintiffs and supporters celebrate after winning a wartime labor case against Japanese machinery manufacturer Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp. in an appeals court in Seoul, on Jan. 30, 2019. (Kyodo)

SEOUL (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 are the company's stake in an affiliated company in South Korea estimated to be worth 765 million won ($675,900), which they say would cover possible compensation to 23 plaintiffs in the case.

The case is still pending after the plaintiffs, all former members of the 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, steelmaker Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. and manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

But the steps were taken 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.

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.

On March 15, the Ulsan District Court decided to freeze Nachi-Fujikoshi's stake in the company, Daesung-Nachi Hydraulics Co., upon the lawyers' request, they said in 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 the company.

In January, a district court in Daegu took seizure procedures for a stake worth 405 million won owned by the steelmaker in a joint venture with South Korean steelmaker 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 the central Japan city of Toyama without sufficient food.

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

The Japanese companies entangled in the 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 Japan's decades-long colonial rule has already been settled as part of a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea.

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