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International relations

Mitsubishi Heavy asset seizure sought in South Korea over war labor

Filing in Seoul court expected to further strain Japan-South Korea ties

A South Korean laborer during the Japanese colonial period arrives with relatives of other victims in front of the Supreme Court in Seoul last November.   © Reuters

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- Plaintiffs who won a wartime forced labor case against Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. filed a request with a South Korean court Thursday to seize the company's assets, their lawyers said.

The seizure, if approved, would make Mitsubishi Heavy Industries the second Japanese company to face asset seizure in South Korea over wartime labor and is almost certain to further sour Japan-South Korea ties.

The lawyers asked the Seoul Central District Court to seize the rights to two trademarks and six patents owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in South Korea, they said in a statement.

Once approved, the company will not be able to sell, transfer or dispose of those assets.

The South Korean Supreme Court last year ordered the company to pay compensation for forced labor. But with the company refusing to engage in compensation talks, relatives of the former laborers were threatening to seek the seizure of its assets.

"Most regrettably, we have decided to request the seizure," the lawyers said in Thursday's statement, stressing that they had no choice but to take the measure.

One of the lawyers said, however, that they are still open to negotiations with the Japanese manufacturer.

Japan takes the position that the issue of claims stemming from Japan's 1910 to 1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has already been settled under a bilateral accord signed alongside a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties.

Tokyo has called on Japanese companies not to agree to compensate the plaintiffs, while requesting that Seoul come up with measures to protect the business activities of Japanese companies in South Korea and agree to engage in intergovernmental consultations to resolve the issue.

Lawyers for South Koreans who won a wartime forced labor case against the other Japanese company, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., said in mid-February they would "immediately" start the process of liquidating the Japanese steelmaker's seized assets.

On Nov. 29, the top court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay damages to two groups of South Koreans after finding that the right of victims of forced labor to seek compensation was not voided by the 1965 accord.

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