Here is a December 2013 satellite image of the renovation (currently under way):
My comments are in this NK News article…
Here is a December 2013 satellite image of the renovation (currently under way):
My comments are in this NK News article…
Pictured Above (Google Earth): The Pyongyang International Football School and support facilities
According to the Korea Herald (Yonhap):
International soccer’s governing body FIFA has provided funds worth $500,000 to build infrastructure to update a soccer academy in Pyongyang, a media outlet reported Thursday.
The International School of Football opened earlier this year and has been training North Korean youths between the ages of 6 and 13, according to a report by Radio Free Asia.
The Washington-based broadcaster said support was given as part of its “goal project” to help build football-related infrastructure in less affluent countries.
FIFA started providing support to the North from 2001 onwards, with around $2 million having been spent so far on six development projects.
Related to the school, North Korean media said its leader Kim Jong-un in June personally designated a name for the new facility that opened on May 31.
Read the full story here:
FIFA gives funds to improve soccer academy in N.K.
Korea Herald (Yonhap)
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
The first chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, took office two years ago. Since then, construction of sports and entertainment facilities are reported to have increased considerably. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s Pyongyang Folk Park (September 2012), Taesongsan General Hospital (March 2013), and Haedanghwa Service Complex (April 2013) were recently completed. Since the launch of the Kim Jong Un regime, the Masik Pass Ski Resort and other similar sports facilities have been undertaken and are nearing completion.
In addition, the People’s Theatre (April 2012), Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground (opened in July 2012), Sunrise Restaurant (September 2012), and Unification Street Center (September 2012) have been recently renovated. In addition, the Mirim Riding Club, Pyongyang Gymnasium, Munsu Wading Pool, Aprok (Yalu) River Amusement park, Karma Hotel, and New Day Hotel and other hotels around Pyongyang are currently under renovation and repair. Entertainment and sports facilities around other major cities are being constructed as well. Furthermore, after the successful launch of Kwangmyongsong 3-2 last December, North Korea has begun to construct major residential complexes for scientists, granting them preferential housing in Unha scientist residence, Kim Il Sung University educator residence, and Pyongsong residence. Other large-scale housing projects are also reported to be under development.
In the wake of major celebrations in North Korea — such as the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and 60-year anniversary of the “Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War” — a large memorial was erected and existing facilities were repaired. Specifically, the Korean People’s Army Exhibition of Arms and Equipment, Kumsusan Memorial Palace, War Victory Monument, and the Cemetery of the Fallen Fighters of the KPA were refurbished.
Unlike the large-scale construction of sports and entertainment facilities, new constructions of harbors, roads, power plants and other social overhead capital (SOC) is reported to be in decline.
Last August, North Korea’s trade with China has shown an 8 percent increase in exports and 6 percent decrease in imports, following a similar trend from last year. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s current trade volume with China is reported to be 4 billion USD (1.89 billion USD in exports and 2.2 billion USD in imports).
North Korea’s most popular export items are mineral resources such anthracite, coal, and iron ore. In the case of clothing products — which are mostly consigned processing — there has been an increase of 42 percent (200 million USD) against the previous year. Major categories of imports from China are crude oil, food, and fertilizers. Compared to the previous year, food imports have declined 57 percent (17.4 million tons), and fertilizer and crude oil imports are also showing gradual reduction at 27 percent (18.3 million tons) and 6 percent (34.6 million tons), respectively.
According to Yonhap:
North Korea has approved for the first time the hoisting of South Korea’s national flag and playing of its anthem on the communist country’s soil, the unification ministry said Friday.
The move comes as the North invited South Korean weightlifters to attend the 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship to be held in the communist country, the Ministry of Unification said.
If realized, it will be the first time in history that South Korea’s national flag, the Taegeukgi will be raised and the national anthem performed in North Korea.
The ministry in charge of all inter-Korean relations said it approved the cross-border trip by the 41-member team made up of South Korean weightlifters and officials who plans to visit Pyongyang next week for a nine-day stay to attend the international sporting competition. The event is set from Sept. 11-17 in the North Korean capital.
Officials here said approval was given because the event is an international gathering organized by the Asia Weightlifting Federation, and Pyongyang vowed to guarantee the safety of the athletes from the South.
Such reconciliatory gestures from both sides are in line with a recent series of signs of thawing relations following a deal to restart the shuttered joint industrial park in the North’s border city of Kaesong and to arrange reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
In 2008 I attended a DPRK-ROK World Cup prelim match in Shanghai. The game was supposed to be held in Pyongyang, but the North Koreans refused to allow the South Korean anthem and flag to be used (as the South Koreans had done).
Read the full story here:
N. Korea allows S. Korean flag hoisting, anthem for first time
The Hankyoreh has published an interesting about a inter-Korean economic project in Dandong, China.
According to the article:
Taking its name from the traditional song “Arirang,” Ari Sports was established in Nov. 2011 with a 500 million won investment from the city of Incheon and 23 workers from North Korea. It is managed not by a North or South Korean organization, but by China’s Yunnan Xiguang Trade.
The football sneaker and sports clothing production plant was originally planned for Pyongyang’s Sadong District. Efforts began in 2008, and the building was nearly complete when the May 24 measures were passed in 2010 and it had to be abandoned. The factory in Dandong is a temporary structure erected in its stead.
Inter-Korean Athletic Exchange Association standing committee chair Kim Gyeong-seong said, “It’s frustrating not to be able to use the good land and facilities we had in Pyongyang.”
“I hope we are soon able to produce and sell soccer shoes and clothes in Pyongyang,” Kim added.
Song said, “Things are difficult right now between North and South Korea, but if we all work together we can overcome it.”
He added that the company was a “small but meaningful project taking place at a time when economic cooperation has been shut off.”
The company has received orders for three thousand pairs of soccer shoes as of May. It currently plans to produce and sell two to three thousand pairs a month. To achieve this, it is organizing a football contest for working people nationwide at the first Incheon Peace Cup event to commemorate the June 15 Summit on June 16 and 17.
I have never heard of this project and I have been unable locate any other articles on the factory. Despite its relative obscurity, however, the North Korean workers know how to deal with the foreign press (they stay on message):
On June 9, the company was visited by around fifty participants in the Incheon-Dandong-Hankyoreh West Sea Cooperation Forum, including Incheon Mayor Song Young-gil and Hankyoreh Foundation for Reunification and Culture chairperson and former Unification Minister Im Dong-won. Located in a farming village on the outskirts of Dandong in China’s Liaoning Province, Ari Sports has 1,600 square meters of floor space on a plot of land also measuring 1,600 square meters.
North Korean workers expressed their frustration with the inability of economic cooperation projects to move forward due to the state of inter-Korean relations. Workers Kwon Ok-kyong, Kim Kum-ju, and Kim Myong-hwa said they wished production and sales could proceed smoothly.
When asked about working at the company, Cho Sang-yon said, “Well, it’s not as good as working in my home country.”
Pak Hyok-nam said, “I’d like to see bigger economic cooperation projects between North and South.”
I have been unable to learn anything else at all about this project. If you are able to find company logos, web page, photos, or even factory locations on Google Earth, please let me know.
Read the full story here:
Factory in China continues producing soccer shoes in spite of frosty relations
UPDATE 1 (2011-11-6): According to the Wall Street Journal:
Japanese football fans are scrambling to secure one of the few seats available on an organized spectator tour to watch the national football team’s World Cup qualifying match against North Korea in Pyongyang on Nov. 15.
It is the first time Japan will play against its enigmatic neighbor on the latter’s home soil in 22 years.
The absence of diplomatic ties between Japan and North Korea has turned coordinating plans into a logistical workout for the Japan Football Association. It has also put a high premium on the 150 tickets available to Japanese citizens, according to the limit imposed by North Korea. The JFA said it is still negotiating with North Korea to try to raise that number.
Just 65 tickets are available for the official tour package. Ticket sales opened Tuesday, sold via Tokyo-based Nishitetsu Travel Co. The travel agency was already taking down names for a waiting list by the following morning.
The three-day, two-night excursion is priced at about ¥288,000, or roughly $3,700. Because there are currently no direct flights to Pyongyang, a special charter was arranged.
Even then, the trip was almost called off. The Japanese government only gave its formal approval Tuesday in support of the team, JFA officials and fans visiting the country: Tokyo has strongly discouraged residents from visiting North Korea citing economic sanctions imposed by Tokyo after a missile launch in 2006. (North Koreans are banned from entering Japan)
Meanwhile, another 65 tickets that were available for the trip were sold. Seats for a choice of two packages to Pyongyang sold out last month, according to Serie Co., a Tokyo-based travel company that organizes football tours. While there was more interest in attending this game compared to past qualifying matches, company president Masashi Tokuda said, there was also more anxiety. Following numerous inquiries, Mr. Tokuda and other employees went to North Korea to inspect the destination spots that would be on the tour—Kim Il-Sung Stadium where the match will be held, restaurants, hotel and sightseeing areas. The company posted its findings on its website.
While Japan isn’t alone in its strained relations with North Korea, traces of the two countries’ unique history has materialized on the football field. North Korea’s national team draws a lot of its power from a clutch of players who are ethnically Korean, but were born and raised in Japan and identify themselves as North Korean. Now playing in Japan’s professional football league, they are third- or fourth-generation Koreans who migrated or were forcefully moved to Japan when the Japanese colonized the country from 1910-1945.
As for the match itself, Japan will be a heavy favorite, ranked No. 17 in FIFA’s world rankings to North Korea at No. 124.
And the Samurai Blue most recently defeated North Korea 1-0 in September in Saitama, Japan.
But, as sports fans know all too well, home-team advantage can be a game-changer. North Korea won 2-0 the last time the two countries faced off in Pyongyang in June 1989.
Win, lose or tie, Japan fans making the trip should bear one other thing in mind: Both tour companies said bringing noise makers and team banners to North Korea is prohibited.
ORIGINAL POST (2011-11-2): First of all, Japan is going to allow a delegation to visit the DPRK for a World Cup qulaifying match. According to the Mainichi Daily News:
Japan will allow supporters of the national soccer team along with accompanying press to visit Pyongyang to watch a World Cup qualifier against North Korea later this month, top government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said Tuesday.
The decision is an exceptional measure to be taken by Japan, which has asked its nationals to refrain from visiting North Korea as part of sanctions imposed following North Korea’s missile launch in July 2006.
The chief Cabinet secretary said at a news conference that the exception will only apply for members of the national team, and accompanying reporters and supporters who register for official tours organized by the Japan Football Association to attend the Nov. 15 qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Fujimura said the government decided to make an exception for the match because there is “great national interest.” He also said the government believes it should avoid any negative feedback on Japan’s bid to host international competitions such as the Olympics by not having politics interfere in sports activities.
According to JFA vice president Kozo Tashima, North Korea plans to only allow up to 150 Japanese supporters to enter the country. The JFA will continue to negotiate with North Korea about increasing the number, Tashima said.
The JFA, after discussing the matter with the government, initially asked the North Korean soccer association to arrange for the entry of 200 to 300 people. But the request was rejected because of limited capacity at hotels and on chartered flights, according to Tashima.
The JFA said the official tour led by Nishitetsu Travel Co. will offer 65 places and its application process will last until Friday. About 10 JFA officials are expected to join the tour.
The government will ban travelers from carrying goods to or from North Korea and ask them to notify the government if they intend to take over 100,000 yen in cash.
In August, Japan allowed the North Korean national team to enter the country for a World Cup qualifying match, in a similar exception to the ban in principle on North Koreans coming to Japan that was imposed in protest at Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons testing in October 2006 among other bilateral issues.
Read the full story here:
Japan to allow supporters to visit N. Korea for World Cup qualifier
Mainichi Daily News
UPDATE 6 (2011-11-18): An Australian Women’s team is unhappy with the way the DPRK doping scandal has erupted. Accoridng to the Herald Sun:
A doping storm surrounding the North Korea women’s soccer team has given the Matildas a glimmer of hope they will be able to compete at the London Olympic Games.
The Matildas failed to qualify for next year’s Games after finishing third in the Asian qualifying tournament in September behind Japan and North Korea.
But North Korea was contentiously allowed to contest the play-offs despite being banned by soccer’s ruling body FIFA following a doping scandal involving five players and a team doctor only three months earlier.
The furore erupted in the wake of this year’s World Cup in June and July when the five players tested positive to steroids, earning bans of up to 18 months.
The team doctor was barred for six years and the team was thrown out by FIFA until the 2015 World Cup.
But a FIFA disciplinary committee’s decision to penalise the Koreans in only the World Cup competition meant they were able to remain in Olympic contention.
The Matildas are furious at the decision, especially since no drug tests were taken at the Olympic qualifying tournament in China, where they endured a 1-0 loss to North Korea.
The Australian Olympic Committee has now asked the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Authority to clarify North Korea’s Olympic eligibility.
Ultimately, it is understood the IOC will bow to FIFA rulings because FIFA runs the Olympic tournament.
Football Federation Australia national teams chief John Boultbee said FFA had also asked WADA to appeal FIFA’s decision.
But the FFA is also yet to make any inroads.
“We think it’s strange that a team is banned for 2015 and not 2012 so we have raised the issue with WADA, the IOC and FIFA but so far to no avail,” Boultbee told AAP.
“We recognise there’s an element of self interest from our point of view because we were third in the qualification tournament but also we are not happy that what FIFA has found to be systematic doping, has not been dealt with in the most effective way.”
It’s believed Matildas players were initially instructed not to comment on the issue but they’ve opted to speak publicly because of their frustration with the situation.
Matildas captain Melissa Barbieri stressed the women’s side did not want to make excuses for their failed campaign but simply could not fathom why no drug testing was done at the qualifying tournament.
“It’s surprising to say the least, especially when a team has been caught with drugs in their system for the World Cup a month beforehand and to have no drug testing,” Barbieri said.
“They (North Korea) played better than us and we lost the game.
“But it plays on your mind – do you really believe that they didn’t have any drugs in their system when they were playing us as well? Who knows?”
While the five North Korean players banned at the World Cup did not take part in the Olympic qualification and cannot compete in London, veteran Matildas defender Thea Slatyer said she was concerned a host of new players had been brought into the squad but not tested.
Slatyer, who would have played her last international tournament in London, said the players had been left disheartened.
“We’re a very fair country. We’ve always played fair and played by the rules,” Slatyer said.
“… It does make you really upset to know that a team that has conducted this behaviour is kind of allowed to get away with not being tested.”
FIFA told AAP in a statement the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament had not been considered a priority for doping control.
“As due to logistical reasons, FIFA cannot conduct at all qualifying games doping controls,” the statement read.
“Therefore, an assessment is done by the FIFA Anti-Doping Unit and it is decided at which matches doping controls will be performed.”
UPDATE 5 (2011-8-25): The DPRK women’s team has been banned from the 2015 Women’s World Cup. According to USA Today:
FIFA banned North Korea from the 2015 Women’s World Cup after five players tested positive for steroids from traditional musk deer gland therapy at the tournament last month.
FIFA on Thursday imposed bans of up to 18 months on all five players, who North Korean officials said were treated with traditional therapy after being struck by lightning at a pre-tournament training camp.
Jong Pok Sim, Hong Myong Hui, Ho Un Byol and Ri Un Hyang were suspended from all soccer-related activity for 18 months, while Song Jong Sun was ineligible for 14 months, FIFA said.
North Korea’s soccer federation was fined $400,000, and team doctor Nam Jong Ae was banned for six years.
The fine “exactly corresponds to the prize money the association would have received for their 13th place in the final ranking of the Women’s World Cup in Germany,” FIFA said.
Defenders Song and Jong failed drugs tests before the World Cup game against Colombia. FIFA then tested the entire North Korean team after its final match.
FIFA’s disciplinary panel also banned Colombia backup goalkeeper Yineth Varon for two years for doping at the tournament.
The doping case was the most serious at a major FIFA tournament in 17 years.
In July, FIFA’s chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak said after extensive testing, “we can really say with far-reaching confidence that these steroids were the result of this so-callled Chinese traditional medicine.”
UPDATE 4 (2011-7-16): Once again, the North Koreans come up with a creative explanation for testing positive in doping tests. According to the Associated Press:
North Korea officials blame traditional medicine using musk deer glands for five of their players testing positive for steroids at the Women’s World Cup in soccer’s biggest doping scandal in nearly two decades.
Their loss to the US was due to being struck by lightning (see below).
UPDATE 3 (2011-7-16): Three more players have tested positive. According to Bloomberg:
Three more North Korean soccer players failed anti-doping tests given to the whole squad after two teammates failed a test earlier this month at the Women’s World Cup.
FIFA didn’t name the players or the substance in a statement today. All North Korean players were tested after Song Jong Sun and Jong Pok Sim were provisionally suspended July 7 before a game against Colombia in Bochum. The two had been tested after the team’s previous matches and the results received yesterday morning.
UPDATE 2 (2011-7-11): A new German language documentary has been released featuring may of the players and their training facilities. See it here.
UPDATE 1 (2011-7-7): Two members of the DPRK Women’s team have been suspended for doping. According to CNN:
World football’s governing body FIFA announced Thursday that two players from the North Korea side have been provisionally suspended from the Women’s World Cup after failing dope tests.
Jong Sun Song and Sim Pok Jong were prevented from playing in the tournament being held in Germany prior to their team’s Group C tie against Colombia in Bochum yesterday.
FIFA said in a statement that adverse “analytical findings” were present in “A” samples collected in two anti-doping tests conducted after the team’s previous matches.
The statement continued: “In accordance with article 58 of the FIFA Anti-Doping Regulations … the whole Korea DPR team was required by FIFA to undergo an anti-doping test after yesterday’s match between Korea DPR and Colombia. The target testing of the entire Korea DPR team was coordinated with WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency].”
North Korea drew 0-0 with Colombia in their third and final game at the event in which they failed to score a goal; previous defeats to Sweden and the USA consigning the team to an early exit.
Colombia finished below North Korea to bottom Group C after also failing to score a goal in their three group games, a result which preceded the announcement from FIFA that a player from their squad was also subject to suspension.
“In total, there have been three adverse analytical findings in connection with the Women’s World Cup. The chairman of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee [also] provisionally suspended the Colombian player Yineth Varon after an out-of-competition doping test conducted in Leverkusen on 25 June 2011.
“Disciplinary proceedings have since been opened and are still pending. FIFA would like to emphasize once again its determination to keep football free of doping.
“It is FIFA’s duty and will to protect players from harm and ensure that footballers can compete on an even playing field. FIFA is a reliable partner of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the worldwide collaboration to safeguard the health of athletes and the spirit of fair competition,” the statement said.
Both North Korea and Colombia failed to progress from the group stage to the quarterfinals, the first of which will be played in Leverkusen when England take on France on Saturday.
Funny, this scene must have been cut from the recent DPRK-made television drama about the women’s football team.
This is one more sign that the North Koreans are just like everyone else—or rather, North Korean athletes respond to incentives in the same way as athletes from other countries. They just can’t afford the kind of staff that is sophisticated enough to beat the doping tests. Unlike some sports purists, I would just assume allow doping in competition.
But despite being such a small country, the North Koreans do seem to draw their fair share of controversy at sporting events. Two North Korean athletes in the 2008 Olympiad were also punished for doping. North Korean gymnasts have been banned from international competition until October 2012 for age falsification. And up until 2008, the North Koreans were the only team ever disqualified from the International Mathematical Olympics.
ORIGINAL POST (2011-6-28): The US team wins 2-0. The DPRK gave the Americans a good game for the first half I am told.
Most interestingly, the DPRK coach blamed the loss on a lightning strike! According to the Los Angeles Times:
North Korea Coach Kim Kwang-Min had an extraordinary explanation for the loss.
“When we stayed in Pyongyang during training, our players were hit by lightning, and more than five of them were hospitalized,” he told the BBC.
“Some stayed in hospital and then came to Germany later than the rest of us. The goalkeeper and four defenders were most affected, and some midfielders as well. The physicians said the players were not capable of participating in the tournament.
“The fact that they played could be called abnormal, the result of very strong will.”
2. The DPRK 2011 women’s team was sponsored by Legea (Italy). The 2008 Olympic team and 2007 women’s football team were sponsored by China Hongxing. Yet a recent North Korean television drama about the women’s team (broadcast last week) featured apparel by FILA.
A German-language documentary was recently released on the sports facilities in the DPRK. Featured in the film are the April 25th Sports Team football field, Moranbong Sports Team facilities, Kim Il-sung Stadium, Sosan Sports District, Pyongyang Indoor Stadium (A State of Mind), Pyongyang Primary School No.4, and Yangggakdo Stadium. The documentary makers also apparently had access to the North Korean women’s team at the recently concluded Women’s World Cup.
Click on the image below to watch the film.
1. The Leader’s so bright (I gotta wear shades). Only Kim Jong-il could give a talk to a packed auditorium while wearing sunglasses indoors…
2. As an frequent scuba diver, I was surprised to see this on North Korean TV this week:
I have not seen a dive suit like this outside of a museum. Antique dive helmets in this style sell for well over US$1,000 and most are from Russia. It seems like the DPRK could export its aging scuba gear, use the proceeds to buy newer/safer dive equipment, and have some cash left over. The picture was taken at the Tanchon Port, which is being renovated.
3. Poor Pororo:
Back in early May, Pororo came out of the closet as a joint-Korean creation. With the implementation of new DPRK-US trade regulations (EO 13570), many were worried that the US was rolling up the welcome mat for Pororo videos—but he will be fine. OFAC explains why. Steve Park’s importation of Pyongyang Soju will also be fine.
4. North Korean Wave:
This week the DPRK launched a new television drama about its ladies national football team. The show’s premier was announced on the KCTV evening news on June 18th and so far it has aired every day this week beginning on the 19th. I have all of the episodes (so far) on my computer, and they are very fun to watch–even without subtitles.
The show appears to be shot on location at the ladies team’s training complex in Pyongyang (38.994877°, 125.811791°–right next to the Taedonggang Brewery):
And just as interesting, this show is the first example (of which I am aware) in which KCTV seems to directly engage in product placement advertising for a foreign-made product. Here is a series of screen shots from the first four episodes:
The coach never takes off his FILA jacket. How long before all of the DPRK’s aspiring footballers want a jacket just like that one?
Interestingly, according to the FILA Wikipedia page: “Founded in 1911 in Italy, Fila has been owned and operated from South Korea since a takeover in 2007.”
I still have not had time to pay much attention to this story, but here is the coverage by the major British media outlets:
SVEN GORAN ERIKSSON, a Swedish football manager of some repute, is a man known as much for his wide travels as he is for his colourful love life. After scoring great success in Italy, he managed the national teams of England, Mexico, and the Côte d’Ivoire. Even seasoned Sven-watchers however were surprised when he rocked up in North Korea in 2009.
This week it was reported that he had been there at the behest of one Russell King, a convicted conman, who had managed to convince a London financial institution, the government of North Korea, and Mr Eriksson himself that he was managing billions of dollars on behalf of the Bahraini royal family.
A report on the BBC’s investigative news programme “Panorama” (or, if you’re outside the viewing area) has it that Mr King, who is now believed to be on the lam in Bahrain, first convinced directors of small investment bank First London Plc to hand over 49% of the company to him, in return for his apparently colossal business. This done, he used First London to finance an investment in Notts County, a Midlands football club with a proud history, now plying its trade in the lower divisions.
Mr Eriksson, drawn in by the promise of shares in Swiss Commodity Holdings (SCH), a vehicle of Mr King’s, was duly installed as football director at County. He was joined there for a time by another fellow dupe, Sol Campbell, an ex-Arsenal and England star. Messrs King and Eriksson ventured to Pyongyang on SCH business, where they are reported to have made a deal with officials in the North Korean government to grant them exclusive rights to the impoverished nation’s gold mines. “I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares”, Mr Eriksson told BBC’s investigative news programme “Panorama”. “They used my name”, he laments; there was even talk of him managing the North Korean football team.
Those who follow developments in North Korea tend to prefer casting Kim Jong Il as an evil genius—crazy like a fox—rather than as merely crazy. While there can be no doubting that he has it in him to run circles around America and China, the Dear Leader appears to be no match for a silver-tongued conman of Russell King’s stature.
The Serious Fraud Office is looking into an elaborate scam that took in the former England football manager Sven Göran-Eriksson, former spymaster Sir John Walker and the North Korean government.
Investigators are also looking at how the same fraudster took control of almost half of a London investment bank without paying for the shares.
First London plc – the investment bank whose shares were listed on the Plus stock exchange and whose advisers included Tim Yeo MP and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former head of defence intelligence – subsequently went into administration with debts of £8.7m.
BBC Panorama has discovered that Russell King, a convicted fraudster, took control of 49% of First London by claiming he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family. The case has been referred to the SFO – which only looks at the country’s highest value frauds – by the Financial Services Authority.
An FSA spokesman said: “In this case the acquisition of control occurred without the FSA having been given the prior notice which the law requires it to be given. Had it been given proper notice it would have been in a position to consider whether it should use its powers to object to and prohibit the change of control. The FSA subsequently identified a number of concerns and pursued a series of leads into what was an extremely complex corporate structure. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time due to confidentiality issues.”
The Panorama programme will show how King then used the name of the bank and its high-profile advisers to give credibility to deals.
They included an attempt to obtain funding for a new company that claimed to have assets worth $2tn and the short-lived takeover of the Football League’s oldest club. In 2009, King was behind a controversial takeover of Notts County which promised to bring millions of pounds of investment from the Middle East. The investment, which appeared to have been guaranteed by First London, never materialised and the club was left £7m in the red – but not before Eriksson agreed to join County as director of football. Nottingham police are investigating.
The coach’s contract included a clause entitling him to €11m of shares in a little-known company called Swiss Commodity Holding, which had been set up a few months earlier and was claiming to have assets worth $2tn from the exclusive rights to North Korea’s gold, coal and iron ore.
King persuaded the former England manager to visit the rogue state as part of an SCH delegation and Eriksson was present at a meeting with the North Korean leadership. “I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares,” he tells the programme. “I asked them how much and what they told me was not millions, it was billions of dollars. They used my name. Of course they did. At the end it became a big, big mistake.”
Panorama’s investigation shows that King was secretly running SCH, which was considering a public listing.
Documents detailing SCH’s claims were prepared by First London plc. The investment bank also sent Walker, who sat on the bank’s advisory board, to check out King and his associates. The air marshal tells the programme: “What do I think of Russell King? Not a lot. He was good at chat, but that was his business. He was a con man. I was taken the same way Sven was taken. They just wanted names.”
King had gained control over First London plc shares after convincing the bank that he was managing billions of dollars of Bahraini cash by introducing some of its executives to senior members of the royal family. But Fawaz Al Khalifa, president of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, says King was lying about his royal connections: “He might have met members of the family here or there, but we have no financial connection to him or his company.”
King, who was jailed for insurance fraud in 1991, denies running Notts County, SCH or First London plc.
However, the programme has obtained dozens of emails and testimonies showing he was secretly pulling the strings, including some where he refers to himself as Lord Voldemort, the character from the Harry Potter books who can never be named.
First London plc’s parent company, First London Group plc, is still in business. In a statement, its lawyers said the failure to notify the FSA about the change in ownership was a mistake: “This was simply an error and not done for any ulterior or questionable motive. As far as our client is aware the FSA were satisfied that the information provided was in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements. Our client is unaware of any investigation by the FSA or SFO into its activities so far as they relate to or involve Russell King.”
The Serious Fraud Office is examining a con that took in Sven-Goran Eriksson and the North Korean government, BBC Panorama has learned.
Investigators are also looking at how the same conman stole a football club and broke a bank.
Convicted fraudster Russell King persuaded the former England manager to join Notts County FC as director of football and to visit North Korea.
Mr King denies any fraud and said he was just a consultant on the deals.
Mr Eriksson was appointed at Notts County in 2009 following a takeover that promised to bring millions of pounds of Middle Eastern investment.
“For me as a football man it was fantastic, building a club from the bottom of League Two and having the funding to do it, to be a Premier League club. It’s like a dream, so I signed. Big mistake,” he said of the deal.
The promised money never arrived and the club was left £7m in debt. Mr Eriksson says there were early signs that all was not as it seemed.
“I started to have doubts when they came and told me the milk bill has not been paid,” he said.
Mr King claimed his Swiss-based mining company had assets worth almost $2 trillion because it had the rights to North Korea’s gold, coal and iron ore.
He told Mr Eriksson the Notts County cash would come from that mining deal. He then persuaded him to join a delegation visiting Pyongyang.
“I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares,” Mr Eriksson told Panorama.
“I asked them how much that was and what they told me was not millions, it was billions of dollars. They used my name. Of course they did. At the end it became a big, big mistake.”
Russell King’s business deals had credibility because they appeared to have the backing of First London plc, an investment bank with advisers including Conservative MP Tim Yeo and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former British spymaster.
The bank sent Sir John, a former head of defence intelligence, to check out Mr King and the Korean deal, but he was also taken in.
Sir John said of the deal: “What do I think of Russell King? Not a lot. He was good at chat, but that was his business. He was a con man. I was taken the same way Sven was taken. They just wanted names.”
Mr King also managed to get control of almost half of First London plc without paying a penny for the shares, after he convinced its bankers he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family.
But Fawaz Al Khalifa, President of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, says that Mr King was lying about his royal connections: “He might have met members of the family here or there, but we have no financial connection to him or his company.”
First London PLC went into administration last year with debts of £8.7m and the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has been examining the deal that gave King control of 49% of its shares. The FSA has now passed its finding to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
“In this case the acquisition of control occurred without the FSA having been given the prior notice which the law requires it to be given,” said an FSA spokesman.
First London plc’s parent company, First London Group plc, is still in business. In a statement, its lawyers said the failure to notify the FSA about the change in ownership was a mistake that had been rectified:
“This was simply an error and not done for any ulterior or questionable motive. As far as our client is aware the FSA were satisfied that the information provided was in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements.
“Our client is unaware of any investigation by the FSA or SFO.”
Mr King, who was jailed for insurance fraud in 1991, denies any involvement in the running of Notts County or First London plc.
But Panorama has obtained dozens of emails and numerous testimonies that show he was secretly pulling the strings at Notts County.
King even referred to himself as Lord Voldemort, the character from the Harry Potter books who can never be named.
The club had been owned by a supporters’ trust, but Mr King persuaded the fans to sell it for just £1 after they met one of his supposedly wealthy benefactors in Bahrain.
Abid Hyat Khan was introduced as a Middle Eastern prince, but Panorama has discovered he is actually on the run from British police.
He absconded from the UK in 2008, when he was due to stand trial for allegedly stealing almost £1m. Khan denies posing as a prince.