Forced Labor Victims Could Claim Japanese Firm's Korean Assets

      January 02, 2019 11:32

      When the Supreme Court here last October ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal to pay W100 million each to four Korean forced labor victims, many predicted that there would be no way to force the company to pay up (US$1=W1,114).

      But lawyers for the victims have tracked down Nippon Steel's property in Korea and asked a court to seize it based on the Supreme Court ruling.

      Earlier, the Japanese government threatened to seize Korean property in Japan if the Japanese company's property was seized here. Diplomatic friction is therefore expected to continue over the matter.

      Nippon Steel's property in Korea includes its share of POSCO-Nippon Steel RHF (PNR), a joint-venture recycling business established in 2008. Nippon Steel holds about 2.34 million stocks worth about W11 billion.

      Lawyers for the victims visited Nippon Steel headquarters in Tokyo twice last year to ask them to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, but executives refused to see them. A recent meeting between bureau chiefs of the two countries' foreign ministries also failed to narrow the gap.

      Nippon Steel also has a 3.32 percent stake or 2.89 million stocks in POSCO, but they take the form of American depositary receipts issued by a U.S. bank and their seizure would require U.S. court approval.

      "Nothing can prevent the victims from asking a court to seize Nippon Steel's property in Korea," said Prof. Lee Won-duk of Kookmin University. "But it creates a huge diplomatic burden for the government here because there could be a string of further class action suits by victims."

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