Can S.Korea Hold N.Korea Accountable for Demolition?

      June 18, 2020 13:38

      North Korea's recent histrionics come at a massive cost, not to the regime but to South Korean taxpayers.

      The inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong that the North blew up Tuesday cost South Korea W70.7 billion, to say nothing of the adjacent building for the Kaesong Industrial Complex, whose windows were shattered in the blast (US$1=W1,214).

      Losses could mount to over W1 trillion if the regime also destroys other structures in the industrial park or the aging chalet resort and other buildings in Mt. Kumgang.

      The government has promised to somehow hold the North accountable. "The North's unilateral blowup of the liaison office is very shocking," a Unification Ministry official said Wednesday. "We'll take them to account for damages in a proper way."

      But asked how, he only added, "We're consulting with a relevant agency."

      The remnants of the inter-Korean liaison office and surrounding building lie shattered in the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea on Wednesday, in this grab from news footage by KBS. /Yonhap

      The two Koreas did in fact work out a compensation provision when they drafted an agreement as a follow-up to the historic inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in 2000. It stipulates that the two sides will "protect invested assets from the other side in each region according to law" and "to make quick, sufficient and effective compensation" if they are expropriated.

      The Kaesong Industrial Park agreement also stipulates that the North takes responsibility for any damage to South Korean assets. But even if the South Korean government pushed for it, North Korea has no money and is likely to ignore it.

      One alternative is demonstrated by the parents of Otto Warmbier, the American student who was beaten to death in a North Korean jail. The Warmbiers are personally trying to track down overseas assets squirreled away by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un based on a U.S. court ruling.

      In a suit for damages in 2018, the U.S. court awarded the Warmbiers US$501.14 million from the North Korean regime. That in theory allows the Warmbiers to seize any assets Kim may have in the U.S.

      The blowup of the liaison office was "an illegal act that forfeited the South Korean government's assets and violated its property rights," independent lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun said. "We should immediately demand compensation and restoration of the destroyed property."

      United Future Party lawmaker Thae Young-ho said, "We should also start a legal struggle to freeze and seize North Korea's overseas assets" if South Korea's property rights are violated.

      "Theoretically, South Korea can file a lawsuit with domestic and foreign courts against North Korea for the demolition," one political observer said.

      But the current government is unlikely to do that since it would mean a complete U-turn in its policy of appeasement at all costs. That only leaves the option of private South Korean businesses that have suffered any damage suing the North.

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