Photo/IllutrationPlaintiffs enter the South Korean Supreme Court in Seoul on Oct. 30, 2018, while showing photos of Korean wartime laborers who have died. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

South Korean district courts have accepted the demands of Korean wartime laborers and are expected to soon order Japanese companies to sell assets to pay compensation to them.

The courts’ decisions were announced on May 1 by lawyers and support groups for the former laborers, who said they were forced to work for Japanese companies during World War II when the Korean Peninsula was under Japan’s rule.

The orders will be issued to Nippon Steel Corp. and Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp., both based in Tokyo.

The South Korean Supreme Court in autumn 2018 ordered Nippon Steel to pay compensation to wartime laborers.

The Japanese government on May 1 filed a protest about the issue with the South Korean government through diplomatic channels. Tokyo’s stance is that all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 agreement between the two countries.

In the case of Nippon Steel (formerly Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.), the assets subject to a court-ordered sale are 194,794 shares of a recycling company that was jointly set up by the Japanese firm and major South Korean steelmaker Posco.

The shares are worth 93 million yen (about $833,000).

In the case of Nachi-Fujikoshi, 76,500 shares of a joint venture between the Japanese machinery maker and a South Korean company are subject to a court-ordered sale. The shares are worth 73 million yen.

The shares have already been seized under court approval.

According to the lawyers, it will take about three months for the shares to be cashed in for compensation payouts.

The lawyers said they intend to hold talks with the Japanese companies during the three months. They repeated their demands that the Japanese companies accept the court rulings, express apologies and discuss the compensation payouts.

Sales of the shares would not only hurt the Japanese companies’ activities in South Korea but would also exacerbate the strained relations between the two countries over issues related to Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

(This article was written by Takeshi Kamiya in Seoul and Tamiyuki Kihara in Tokyo.)