Inheritance granted to abducted South Korean

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Inheritance granted to abducted South Korean

In an unprecedented ruling, a local South Korean court concluded earlier this week that a North Korean defector whose mother was reported missing 37 years ago in the South is eligible to inherit her South Korean maternal grandfather’s assets.

The Seoul Southern District Court ruled on Monday in favor of a 45-year-old North Korean defector who filed a lawsuit demanding the right to her dead mother’s inheritance, which had been left to her by her South Korean maternal grandfather after his death in South Chungcheong.

The defector, who was not named, claimed that her mother, surnamed Lee, had served in the 1950-53 Korean War as a student soldier but was dragged to North Korea in 1950.

Lee’s father died in 1961 in South Korea, leaving his 5-hectare (12-acre) property to his family. When Lee’s mother and siblings failed to determine her whereabouts, they reported her missing in 1977, which led to the forfeiture of her inheritance rights. The following year, the property was granted to Lee’s mother and siblings.

In May 2004, Lee was finally reunited with her family in China with the help of brokers. However, she died two years later in December 2006 in North Korea under questioning and torture when the incident was uncovered by the authorities.

Lee’s daughter, who was born in North Korea and grew up there, eventually succeeded in defecting to South Korea in November 2009. After that, she began her search for her South Korean relatives, claiming her mother had the right to the inheritance.

The defector’s uncles, who met her in 2004 in China, admitted to the court that she was their niece. She also brought along a photo of her mother with her grandfather as proof.

Technically, under South Korea’s civil law, a person cannot restore his or her inheritance 10 years after forfeiting it.

However, in its ruling, the South Korean court determined that inheritance in regard to family members in North Korea posed an exception.

“Because the division of the two Koreas has been so prolonged, there are likely many cases in which North Korean residents have had their inheritance rights forfeited,” Seo Yeong-hyo, a judge at the court, read during the verdict. “… North Koreans should be exempt from the restriction on the 10-year inheritance restoration period.”

BY CHAE SEUNG-GI, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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