The Investigative Commission on Pro-Japanese Collaborators’ Property was set up four years ago by then Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and announced this week that it has completed its work.
To date, 11 million square metres of land with an estimated value of £112 million have been taken back by the state with procedures pending against further parcels of land that the commission has concluded were earned through co-operating with the Japanese.
“This whole process has been very important to the government and people of the older generations, in particular, because there was a feeling that these people had not been punished for what they did to their homeland at that time,” Lee Seokwoo, a professor of law at Incheon’s Inha University, told The Daily Telegraph.
“And the amounts of land being seized are huge, showing just how much these people did profit from collaborating,” he said.
“The timing of the commission’s conclusion is also significant as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the annexation of the Korean Peninsula and this process is needed to remember those events,” he said.
Among those named in the commission’s five-volume report is Lee Wan Yong, who signed the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty in 1905 that brought the peninsula under the control of Tokyo, although it was another 10 years before it became a formal colony.
Others who have been identified as collaborators included Lee Doo-hang, who was involved in the murder of Korean Empress Myeongseong in 1895 and became governor of North Jeolla Province after the Japanese occupation, the officials serving Emperor Gojong known as The Five Eulsa Traitors, who also countersigned the 1905 treaty, and Bae Jeong-ja, the foster daughter of the Japan’s first governor of Korea, Hirobumi Ito, who spied on Korean independence activists.
Others were businessmen who exploited fellow Koreans or senior police officers who committed atrocities against members of the resistance.
Even politicians in the ruling party who are descended from collaborators have not been spared the investigation. Shin Ki-nimmed, a close ally of former President Roh and chairman of his Uri Party, was in 2005 identified as the son of a collaborator and forced to resign from the party.
The proceeds from the assets that have been confiscated will be distributed to the families of resistance fighters and to support projects commemorating the independence movement, the commission said.
“The efforts to hold pro-Japan collaborators accountable for their wrongdoings of the past should have been made earlier,” Kim Chang-kuk, chairman of the commission, said. “The commission’s activities leave a message for future generations that treacherous deeds must be disciplined, not bounded by time.”
With the conclusion of the commission, attention is expected to shift to the return of historically important artefacts – including works of art and literature – that were looted by the Japanese during their occupation.
South Korean researchers have located tens of thousands of culturally important Korean artefacts in museums and other collections around the world that disappeared in the early years of the last century.