According to the Financial Times:
Hungary has revealed that it was asked by North Korea to write-off more than 90 per cent of its outstanding debt in the latest indication of the secretive totalitarian regime’s financial distress.
Hungary’s economy ministry told the Financial Times that North Korean negotiators had tabled the request in November 2008 during a meeting in Pyongyang.
“They asked [us] to take good consideration of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s current economic difficulties and asked for cancellation of over 90 per cent of the total debt amount,” the ministry said.
The revelation follows a report in the FT last week that Pyongyang had asked the Czech Republic to write-off 95 per cent of its Kc186m ($10m) debt.
The cash-strapped totalitarian state offered to settle 5 per cent of the debt in ginseng, a root that is said to combat lethargy and impotence.
North Korea appears to be struggling to meet its financial obligations owing to the pressures of a moribund domestic economy and international trade sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons programme.
Following the mysterious sinking of a South Korean warship in March, Washington vowed to further crack down on North Korea’s international financing, money laundering and narcotics operations.
Pyongyang’s outstanding debts are estimated at about $12bn, about two-thirds of which is owed to former communist states.
Its Hungarian debt emerged from a trade surplus between the two countries, mostly in the period before the fall of the Iron Curtain, an official said.
The total debt is 29.6m clearing roubles – an accounting unit used in the former Soviet Bloc.
Hungary said North Korea had agreed in principle to pay the debt in cash, with partial cancellation.
Details such as the clearing-rouble conversion rate and the size of the cancellation must still be settled, however.
Officials were unable to say when the negotiations would resume. Ginseng was not mentioned during previous talks.
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Hungary reveals North Korean debt request