The claim for £15,000 per person being lodged jointly by British, American, Australian and New Zealand veterans' associations after the failure of an attempt by the British and Japanese governments to obtain reparations by a diplomatic compromise, to avoid embarrassment over 50th anniversary celebrations of victory over Japan in August.
In September 1993 when John Major was in Japan, his request to the then Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa for ex-gratia compensation payments was refused. However, the two premiers agreed a face-saving deal, which would have set up a trust for veterans to which Japanese industry would contribute as a gesture of repentance for having profited from forced labour.
The Independent has learnt that as the initiative threatened to founder, Sir Kit McMahon, former chairman of Midland Bank and former deputy governor of the Bank of England, went to Tokyo in November at the behest of the Foreign Office to ask various Japanese companies to fund the "foundation" to aid former PoWs.
Details of his visit were kept secret by the Government, and Sir Kit has declined to comment.
According to a senior official in the Japanese foreign ministry: "None of the companies agreed to meet him. He was told that people he wanted to see were not available or on overseas trips." The official said he was personally "very embarrassed" by the response and he had tried to "persuade" his compatriots "at least to meet Sir Kit".
The Foreign Office confirmed that the Government had "reluctantly concluded" that the foundation plan was "unlikely to succeed", and that Mr Major had since written to his Japanese counterpart, Tomiichi Murayama, to express "our continuing concern about the problem, and hope that our two governments can work together to resolve it".
The Allied groups will lodge their compensation claims at Tokyo District Court on 30 January. The presiding magistrate is expected to decide within three months whether their case can proceed.
The Foreign Office stresses that the Government has no legal claim against Japan as the issue was officially settled by the 1951 San Francisco Treaty which re-established diplomatic relations. British and Commonwealth PoWs each received £76 compensation.Individual claims are not affected, however.Reuse content