SEOUL (Kyodo) -- A South Korean court on Thursday ordered the sale of confiscated assets of Nippon Steel Corp. to compensate plaintiffs in a wartime forced labor lawsuit, a court official said, in the second court decision of its kind.
The order against the Japanese company was issued by a district court branch in the southeastern city of Daegu. It follows one in September in another case involving Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.
Nippon Steel is highly likely to appeal the court's order, just like Mitsubishi Heavy did. If an appeal is made, it is expected to take considerable time as the case could reach the top court.
Its assets in South Korea were seized by the court after it failed to pay damages to four Korean plaintiffs following an October 2018 Supreme Court ruling that found the men were mobilized to work for Japan Iron & Steel Co., Nippon Steel's forerunner, in the 1940s while the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule.
The company did not comply with the compensation order as it heeded the Japanese government's position that the issue of claims stemming from the 1910-1945 colonial rule was settled in 1965 under a bilateral accord signed alongside a treaty that established diplomatic ties.
As a result, the plaintiffs had a portion of the company's shares in POSCO-Nippon Steel RHF Joint Venture, involving South Korean steelmaker POSCO, seized via the court and in May 2019 asked the court to order the sale of the shares.
Nippon Steel called itself Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. until its name change in April 2019.
If the assets are actually liquidated, it will likely deal another blow to already frayed bilateral relations.
Last September, after the court order against Mitsubishi Heavy, the Japanese protested to South Korea and warned that liquidating the seized assets "would invite a grave situation" for both countries.
It urged South Korea to "immediately take appropriate measures" for what it calls "clear violations of international law."