Archive for the ‘Foreign direct investment’ Category

KCNA reports on Kangryong Green Zone

Friday, December 9th, 2016

The Kangryong Green Zone was first announced on a promotional VCD given to foreign participants of a SEZ conference in Pyongyang in October 2013. However, the project was not formally announced in KCNA until July of 2014. KCNA has not mentioned it again until today.

According to KCNA:

Pyongyang, December 9 (KCNA) — The DPRK has pushed ahead with the project to develop Kangryong County of South Hwanghae Province into an international green model zone.

Kangryong County has favorable conditions for the project, as it is bound on sea rich in marine resources like sea cucumber and scallop. And its beachfront is abundant in energy resources, including wind, solar and tidal powers.

The county has circumstances favorable for sustainable development of agricultural production by means of bettering its ecosystem with organic farming method and introducing ring-shaped rotation production system.

In this regard, Hong Kil Nam, director of the Secretariat of the Korea Green Research and Development Association, told KCNA:

The county is highly potential to be a world-level green zone for its excellent natural ecological environment and good conditions for the development of fishery and agriculture.

With an increasing interest of the government in the county, a master plan for developing the whole county into an international green model zone was well matured in keeping with the reality of the DPRK and the world trend of development.

The master plan regards it as its principle to protect and improve the county’s natural ecological environment, set up a system of ecological circulation featuring the green zone, raise the utilization of resources and energy to the maximum and achieve the sustainable economic development. To this end, the plan includes such detailed projects as construction of an industrial zone for production of green goods, infrastructure and tourist zones with populated, forest and other areas.

Meanwhile, it is gaining momentum to draw up detailed plans and create a favorable environment for investment.

Share

Orascom’s Ora Bank closes

Monday, December 5th, 2016

According to the Egyptian Daily News:

Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding will shut down Orabank, its affiliate bank in North Korea, due to US sanctions on the nation, according to an announcement on Sunday.

The company, owned by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, added in a note to the Egyptian Exchange that shutting down the bank in Korea is a result of force majeure due to the sanctions imposed by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control on North Korea.

Orascom noted that its subsidiary in Korea will transfer all cash and liquid assets.

The company added that its subsidiary, Koryolink, will continue operating in Korea despite the sanctions.

Shortly after the banks closing was announced, Naguib Sawiris announced his resignation as CEO of OTMT . You can read the Press Release and coverage in Forbes.

According to the Chosun Ilbo:

Naguib Sawiris resigned a day after Orascom decided to shut down a branch of its affiliate bank Orabank in Pyongyang under sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Sawiris has done brisk business in the U.S. and Europe and has much of his assets in the West,” a source said. “So he has no choice but to look for an exit in the face of the sanctions.”

Sawiris has a U.S. passport and is therefore directly affected by sanctions that penalize U.S. citizens from doing business with the North, according to investigative website Finance Uncovered.

Orabank in Pyongyang is linked to Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, which has been blacklisted by the U.S. for serving as a funnel for the regime’s nuclear weapons development.

Here are links to previous posts on cell phones, Orascom, and Ora Bank.

Here is coverage in North Korea Tech.

 

Read the full story here:
Sawiris shuts down affiliate bank in North Korea due to US sanctions
Egyptian Daily News
2016-12-4

Share

Financial complex and upscale hotel construction presses ahead in Wonsan

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

To develop the ‘Wonsan-Mount Kumgang International Tourist Zone’, plans have been put in place to build a General Financial Complex and five-star hotel in Wonsan.

Naenara (My Country), a North Korean propaganda website that targets an international audience, indicated that the goal of ‘Wonsan’s Chungdong General Land Development’ Investment Proposal released September 1, 2016 was to “develop Wonsan into a commercial and cultural exchange center, as well as a center for trade and financial transactions.”

According to the proposal, the target of investment is the Chungdong district and parts of the Sangdong district of Wonsan (Kangwon province) with a total area of 300,000 square kilometers. The total amount to be invested was set at USD 196,560,000.

In addition, the proposal sets out plans to first construct ten separate buildings, including 10 units of rental housing, a three-star hotel, an international finance complex, a department store, an indoor gym, and a restaurant for world cuisine.

The proposal adds: “in the surrounding area (of the center), world-class facilities including an ultra-luxurious five-star hotel called the Wonsan Hotel, a General Financial Complex, a General Office Complex, an International Exhibit, and a library are to be constructed.”

It also makes clear that existing housing, commercial facilities, offices and factories in the area will be demolished.

With respect to international investors, the proposals envisage that development will utilize the BOT (Built-Operate-Transfer) method. BOT is a method of funding infrastructure projects in which a contractor is given the right to operate a set of facilities for a prescribed period in order to recover both the initial investment and a profit, before control of the facilities reverts to the contracting party.

The website states that “the Committee to Promote the Development of the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang International Tourism Zone was chosen for the spill-over effects for both the Wonsan area and the zone as a whole.”

Moreover, the separate ‘General Finance Center Proposal’ was also released via Naenara on the same day– the building is set to be 15 stories high, with additional two basement floors.

The complex has a total area of 1,500 square meters, the actual building area of 800 square meters, and total floor of 12,000 square meters. The building will play host to banks, office space and restaurants.

The proposal emphasized that “the development of the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang Tourist Zone into a world-class tourist site reflects the firm will of our party and government . . . . The future tourist zone will radiate the light as the ‘East’s Pearl’ transformed into a renowned tourist destination both in East Asia and more broadly the entire world.”

Here is the text from the Naenara article (PDF).

 

Share

North Korea’s natural resources and the “Five-year Plan”

Monday, August 29th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s natural resource and minerals issue runs as a clear thread throughout its economic past and present. On the one hand, they provide immense wealth (not least through export revenues), but on the other hand, the leadership has often been wary of letting their role grow too large. Moreover, it appears that the North Korean leadership, both at various times in history and in recent years, has seen individuals scrambling to amass personal wealth through mineral exports as a danger to state incomes and economic control. Recall that one of the accusations against Jang Song-taek was that he sold off the country’s natural resources to “foreign countries” for cheap.

In a brief from the beginning of the month, IFES analyzes Rodong Sinmun coverage of the role of natural resources in implementing the five-year plan for economic development, the details of which are yet to be revealed:

Kim Jong Un has appealed for all energy to be put into developing underground resources in order to implement the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’ (unveiled at the 7th Party Congress of the Workers Party of Korea held in May).

In reporting that appeared in Rodong Sinmun on July 13, 2016 it was asserted that “The task of developing and using underground mineral resources effectively to raise self-sufficiency and independence lies in front of party members and workers who are vigorously participating in a 200 day speed battle to make a breakthrough in the implementation of the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy in the country, which is known worldwide for its minerals.”

Self-sufficiency and natural resource dependence have often been highlighted in North Korean economic publications as mutually exclusive. Presumably, Rodong Sinmun advocates that natural resources be used for economic production through fuel and the like, rather than merely for export incomes.

It went on to urge that “with the close collaboration between the state resources development sector and scientific research groups, all resources must be concentrated on prospective and current surveys (surveys that measure mineral reserves) to ensure that the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy succeeds.”

It added, “energy must be put in to find more as yet undeveloped potential sites for development . . . reserves must be secured to ensure that mine production continually rises.”

It also emphasized that “all illegal extraction of underground mineral resources by [production] units, factories and collective organizations for the benefit of their own unit alone must be gotten rid of . . . [and] the role of institutions supervising and controlling underground resources and environmental protection must be strengthened.”

In other words, incomes from mineral extraction should go to the central government, and individuals trying to exploit the expanding opportunities for private business activity to generate personal profits through mineral exports should be kept under control.

Admittedly, the paper also demanded natural tourist attractions be protected: “the staff of supervisory institutions must engrave deeply in their hearts the earnest wish of the Great Leader by not developing Mount Kumgang and Mount Myohyang, regardless of how large the underground mineral deposits are there, and hand down their beautiful scenery and nature to posterity.”

At the aforementioned 7th Party Congress, Kim Jong Un unveiled the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’, and also set out to revolve energy problems and strengthen the self-sufficiency and independence of the people’s economy.

Full publication here:
Mobilizing “All Energy in Securing Underground Resources” to Implement Development Strategy
Institute for Far Eastern Studies
2016-08-01

Share

Hay, Kalb and Associates suspending operations

Monday, August 1st, 2016

According to Reuters:

North Korea’s first and only law firm set up by a foreigner, Hay, Kalb & Associates, will suspend operations, the firm’s principal said in a statement on Monday, as the country grows increasingly isolated.

The firm is a joint venture between the North Korean state and British-French citizen Michael Hay, who has represented foreign clients in the capital, Pyongyang, for 12 years.

Hay said he had made the decision based on “business and geopolitical principles”.

“This decision has been taken only after lengthy and thorough deliberation and an examination of the continuing deterioration of inter-regional relations pertaining to the Korean peninsula,” Hay said in a statement.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that no meaningful change or indicator of change in relations shall occur, if at all, until well after the United States Presidential Inauguration, on January 20, 2017,” Hay said in the statement.

North Korea has come under growing diplomatic pressure since its January nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch in February, which led to a new U.N. Security Council resolution in March that tightened sanctions against Pyongyang.

The majority of Hay’s clients are foreign investors, many of whom have been negatively affected by the sanctions, Hay told Reuters.

“Sanctions are hurting legitimate foreign investors. There still is no credible, consistent evidence I see of DPRK companies hurting,” Hay said. DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official title.

Very few foreigners live or work in North Korea. Those who do are usually members of the diplomatic or NGO community, although a small group of foreign investors have maintained a quiet and steady presence inside the country.

The suspension takes effect from midnight on Monday, Hay said, with an official suspension scheduled for Aug. 14, the firm’s 12-year anniversary.

Hay, who bills his firm as the only foreign-invested firm in North Korea, said he will still maintain an office in Pyongyang.

North Korea has more than 8,000 law graduates, according to an official 2008 census, half of whom are based in Pyongyang. Most are employed by the state.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s only foreign-founded law firm suspends operations
Reuters
James Pearson
2016-8-1

Share

Foreign Trade report on the Nampho SEZs (Jindo, Waudo)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Nampho-EDZs-Google-Earth

Pictured above (Google Earth): The approximate locations of the Waudo and Jindo Export Processing Zones

The North Korean quarterly magazine, Foreign Trade, published information on the Jindo and Waudo economic development Zones (straddling the Ryongnam Ship Repair Factory).

According to Foreign Trade (2016 vol 2, p6):

Economic development parks in the DPRK are booming recently.

The city of Nampho is conducting processing trade by relying on the bases in Jindo and Wau Islet, taking advantage of its favourable economic and geographical conditions.

As a gate city on the coast of the West Sea of Korea, the industrial city has an international port.

The city, situated on the lower reaches of the Taedong River, boasts metallurgical, machine building, glass-making industries, and lead and zinc refi ning, silk fabrics and shipbuilding bases.

It has the country’s biggest salt works and a fishing station, a fishing implements manufacturing factory and a refrigerating plant.

The Port of Nampho, the biggest of its kind in the western part of the country, is at the northern shore of the Taedong’s entrance to the sea. The water is deep, the port itself is far inside the estuary of the Taedong River and the dams of the West Sea Barrage stand high, assuring safe navigation by ships.

There are around ten major berths and crane ships, loading bridges and conveyor belts.

Wau Islet off the port is one of the famous tourist spots.

The port is linked with over a hundred foreign countries and regions for commercial trade.

Jindo Processing Trade Zone
The zone aims at producing various kinds of light industry and chemical goods made from duty-free raw materials for export.

Cooperation period: 50 years

Project plan: The coverage of the zone is about 1.8 sq km. By taking advantages of the Port of Nampho nearby and tens of years of development of the machine-building, electronical and light industries in Nampho, it processes various goods and exports them. Enterprises are admitted to it on the principle of conserving the environment and saving energy. It strives to develop new products and industrial fields, realize technical transfer with other countries and thus contribute to revitalizing the domestic industry. It is also making efforts to develop into a processing trade and bonded trade area.

Waudo Processing Trade Zone
The zone aims at developing into an intensive processing trade zone by introducing advanced development and operation mode and by placing stress on export-oriented processing and assembling.

Cooperation period: 50 years
Gross Investment: About USD 100,000,000

Project plan: The zone covers an area of about 1.5 sq km. By utilizing its favourable conditions, it puts main emphasis on bonded processing, processing to order, barter trade and other types of export-oriented processing industry.

It aims to develop into a comprehensive zone with financial, tourist, real estate and foodstuff industry bases in the areas around the port and the scenic area around the West Sea Barrage.

Cooperation mode: Joint venture between corporate bodies of the DPRK and foreign investors or wholly foreign-owned enterprises.

Location: Some parts of Ryongnam-ri, Waudo District by the estuary of the Taedong River southwest of the city.

Infrastructure condition: Only 50km away from Pyongyang and a few kilometres between the port, the biggest international port in the country, and the railway station.

From the port it is 330km to Dalian, 332km to Weihai, Shandong, 930km to Shanghai and 695km to Tianjin, China, and 1 575km to Chinese Taipei. The Youth Hero Road between Pyongyang and Nampho facilitates the few scores of kilometres of travel to the Pyongyang International Airport. These all provide favourable conditions for domestic marine transport and entry and exit of foreign personnel, materials and funds.

A 600,000kW-capacity power station and 10,000kW-capacity tidal power station are intended to be built near Kwangnyang Bay beside the West Sea Barrage. The Taedong fully guarantees water supply.

The site was formerly occupied by a salt farm, so problem of removing structures does not arise. The area is 40m above sea level and flat.

National Economic Development Guidance Bureau, DPRK Ministry of External Economic Relations
Add: Taedonggang District, Pyongyang, DPR Korea
Tel: 0085-02-381-5912
Fax: 0085-02-381-5889
E-mail: sgbed@star-co.net.kp

A screen shot of the original article can be seen here.

NK News has additional analysis here.

Share

2016 closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex

Friday, February 12th, 2016

UPDATE 7 (2016-5-12): Yonhap offers some postmortem statistics on the Kaesong  Industrial Complex:

The total value of products churned out from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea reached US$3.23 billion in the 11 years of its operations before it was shut down earlier this year, a report by South Korea’s unification ministry said Thursday.

The joint factory park that began production in 2005 as part of a deal reached between the leaders of the two countries in June 2000, had been the last remaining economic link between the two countries. On Feb. 10, Seoul announced the closure of the joint venture as punishment for North Korea’s defiant nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February.

The ministry’s white paper said in 2015, the annual production volume reached its peak at $563.3 million. Last year also marked the first time yearly production numbers exceeded the $500 million threshold, data showed.

In the first year of operations in 2005, the corresponding number stood at $14.9 million before it grew steadily to $323.3 million in 2010 and $469.5 million in 2012, according to the findings.

A four-month suspension of operations, amid escalating inter-Korean tensions, caused annual production to drop to $223.8 million in 2013 before numbers rebounded to $470 million the following year.

As of the end of 2015, a total of 54,988 North Koreans were employed at the factory park designed to combine South Korea’s capital and the North’s cheap labor force. The numbers marked a growth of more than 1,000 workers from a year earlier.

Spurred by last year’s biggest-ever production at the factory, trade volume between the South and the North reached $2.71 billion, the highest figure recorded to date, the white paper also showed.

The brisk performance helped push up the number of travelers between the countries in 2015, with the figure rising to an eight-year high of 132,101.

The unification ministry’s report then said South Korea’s humanitarian assistance to the North soared to a six-year high of 25.4 billion won (US$21.8 million) in 2015.

In the same year, the number of North Koreans defecting to the South reached 1,276 last year, the smallest tally since 2001 when the figure stood at 1,043, according to the ministry.

The annual addition of North Korean defectors took the total population of North Korean defectors in South Korea up to 28,795 as of the end of last year, with about 70 percent of them being women.

“Based on the principle of maintaining solid security, the government has strived to normalize South-North relations and bring about peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the ministry said in assessment of its performance in 2015.

“The government is keeping the Kaesong factory park venture closed and taking stringent sanctions in collaboration with the international community,” the ministry said, denouncing North Korea’s defiant nuclear test in January that was followed by numerous military threats.

UPDATE 6 (2016-2-24): Korean firms claim huge losses from factory shutdown. According to Yonhap:

South Korean firms based in a jointly run industrial park in a North Korean border city have suffered more than 815 billion won (US$660 million) in losses from its shutdown, their association claimed Wednesday.

Earlier this month, North Korea expelled South Korean workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex and froze the assets of companies operating there, a day after the South suspended operations in retaliation for Pyongyang’s rocket launch.

The shutdown of the industrial park, regarded as the top achievement of inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation efforts, is feared to deal a heavy blow to the South Korean firms involved.

A total of 124 South Korean companies have been operating in the zone, some 50 kilometers northwest of Seoul, employing more than 54,000 North Korean workers to produce labor-intensive goods, such as clothes and utensils.

The estimated financial damage breaks down to some 569 billion won in investment and facilities, and some 245 billion won in inventory.

The association said any potential losses stemming from compensation to their customers and the stoppage of their operations was not included in the tally.

According to the association, 49 companies largely rely on their factories in the industrial park for their production. “Actual damage should be counted more accurately, and will be revealed later,” it said.

South Korean companies at the inter-Korean industrial park have been urging their government to roll out full support measures as their losses from the park’s shutdown are unimaginable.

When the industrial park was closed in 2013 for 160 days, South Korean firms reported a combined loss of 1.05 trillion won.

The companies, however, claim the actual damage will be greater considering the loss of business partners and credibility.

“We strongly demand that the government fully compensate our losses in investment and other assets as insurance coverage is very limited,” it said.

In order to minimize South Korean firms’ possible losses, the country’s financial regulator earlier said it would provide financial aid to the firms operating there.

The complex, which opened in 2004, had served as a major revenue source for the cash-strapped North, while South Korea had benefited from cheap but skilled North Korean labor.

The complex had been recognized as an exception to Seoul’s sanctions against Pyongyang designed to punish it for the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010.

UPDATE 5 (2016-2-12): Seoul cuts off power supplies to factory park in North Korea (AP)

South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals.

UPDATE 4 (2016-2-11): NK Leadership Watch posts CPRK statement.

UPDATE 3 (2016-2-11): North Korea freezes Gaeseong assets, expels South Korean workers (Korea Herald)

At about 10 p.m., the South Korean government confirmed that all of the 280 South Korean workers who had been at the facility returned home safely.

“The frozen equipment, materials and products will be managed by the committee of Gaeseong people,” Pyongyang’s statement said prior to the workers’ return to South Korea.

“From 10 p.m. (10:30 p.m., South Korean time) on Feb. 11, (the North) will seal off the industrial park and nearby military demarcation line, shut the western overland route and declare the park as a military off-limit zone.”

The South Korean firms operating in the complex sent one truck each to Gaeseong to bring to the South their finished products, production materials, equipment and other belongings, while Seoul authorities vowed to try their utmost to minimize possible damages to firms.

An additional 130 South Koreans entered the complex to prepare for the suspension of factory operations. There were 70 more South Koreans in the park from the previous day as more workers were sent to carry out the government’s withdrawal instructions.

Apparently in line with Pyongyang’s instructions, North Korean workers did not show up at the park, Seoul officials said. Some 55,000 North Korean workers worked at the complex through which Pyongyang raked in around $100 million annually.

UPDATE 2 (2016-2-11): North Korea to Freeze South’s Assets at Kaesong Industrial Park (New York Times)

North Korea said on Thursday that it would freeze all South Korean assets at a joint industrial complex the South shut down to retaliate for a recent nuclear test and a rocket launch by the North.

It also ordered all 248 South Korean managers in the factory park in the North Korean town of Kaesong expelled by 5 p.m. on Thursday, allowing them to return home with only their personal belongings. The North said it would sever all communication across the border after the last of the South Koreans left.

In addition, it said it was shutting down the only cross-border highway open between the two Koreas. The road has linked South Korea with the factory park since 2004, when it began operations just over the western inter-Korean border. The zone will return to the control of the North Korean military, it said.


South Korea’s action was “a declaration of an end to the last lifeline of the North-South relations” and “driving the situation in the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a war,” said a statement from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a North Korean government agency in charge of relations with the South.

“The South Korean puppet group will experience what disastrous and painful consequences will be entailed by its action,” it said, calling the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, “a traitor for all ages.”

The corridor linking Kaesong and Seoul, the South Korean capital, was the main invasion route for North Korean troops during the 1950-53 Korean War and was at one time the most heavily guarded section of the 155-mile border.

After a historic inter-Korean summit meeting in 2000 in which the two sides agreed to promote reconciliation, the hard-line North Korean People’s Army grudgingly stepped aside as South Korean engineers removed barbed-wire fences, tank traps and minefields to build the highway across the border.

The Kaesong complex began as a pilot project to combine South Korean manufacturing skills with cheap North Korean labor. Eventually, more than 45,000 North Koreans worked for 123 South Korean-owned factories there. The plants produced more than $515 million worth of textiles, electronic parts and other labor-intensive goods last year, according to the South Korean government.

UPDATE 1 (2016-2-10):  South Korea Takes a Stand, Closes Kaesong Industrial Complex (RFA)

Until Wednesday, Kaesong was one of the few instances where the two countries cooperate.

Established in 2004, the industrial park is the last remnant of former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy, which also led to a historic summit with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2000.

While Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for implementing the Sunshine Policy, his legacy was dismantled in 2010 when South Korea’s Unification Ministry declared the policy a failure.

Closing Kaesong now snuffs out what remains of North-South cooperation and closes a window through which some North Koreans could get a taste of life in the south, Lankov said.

“I have supported the continued operation of the Kaesong complex because of the enormous effects of South Korean Choco Pie cookies on the North Korean workers, which the North Korean regime banned distribution of some time ago,” Lankov said.

“The Kaesong Industrial Complex has served as sort of a window through which its North Korean workers can get a glimpse of life in South Korea,” he added.

Labeled a special administrative industrial region of North Korea, Kaesong operated as a collaborative economic development zone that hosts South Korean companies attracted by its access to cheap labor. Kaesong is only six miles inside North Korea, with direct rail and highway access to the south.

The industrial park has been controversial in South Korea, as some conservative South Koreans argue that it extends a lifeline to the North Korean leadership, undermining United Nations sanctions.

Kaesong has been closed before.

In 2013, North Korea pulled its 53,000 workers from the plant in a show of strength during an earlier time of rising tensions between the two nations. At the time, North Korea said it “gets few economic benefits from the zone while the South side largely benefits from it.”

While the earlier closure did not last, the closure announced Wednesday looks set to become permanent.

ORIGINAL POST: Here is a statement from the Ministry of Unification:

Government Statement regarding the Complete Shutdown of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex

North Korea has pushed ahead with the extremely provocative act of launching a long-range missile on the heels of its 4th nuclear test, showing disregard for the repeated warnings of the international community and the suffering of its people.

North Korea’s provocations are a direct challenge to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the international community and its actions are absolutely unacceptable. Notwithstanding international efforts to deter North Korea from developing its nuclear capabilities and long-range missiles,

North Korea has declared that it would follow up on its recent provocations with additional nuclear tests and missile launches, thereby not even showing the slightest intent to forgo the development of its nuclear and missile capabilities.

The status quo is not static, as North Korea’s nuclear capabilities will be upgraded, all but leading to a catastrophic disaster. If left unattended, North Korea’s nuclear and missile development will lead to a fundamental imbalance in and threat to the security landscape of Northeast Asia, not to mention the Korean Peninsula, and the countries of this region will be left with no choice but to take measures to ensure their own survival and shore up their security, and there are concerns that this could eventually even lead to a nuclear domino effect.

Under these grave circumstances, it is clear that the existing approach will not work in discomfiting North Korea’s nuclear and missile development plans. Accordingly, what is in order is a vigorous response together with the international community that, for sure, exacts a price for North Korea’s misguided actions, as well as extraordinary measures that compel North Korea to give up its nuclear capabilities and change its ways.

At a time when the international community is seeking sanctions in the wake of North Korea’s violation of UN Security Council resolutions with its nuclear test and long-range missile launch, there is a need for Korea, as a key party, to show leadership in taking part in these moves.

Over the years, our Government has been working to continue maintaining the Gaeseong Industrial Complex despite North Korea’s repeated provocations and under extreme state of affairs, all with a view to assisting the lives of the North Korean people, providing impetus to lifting up the North Korean economy, and achieving the shared progress for both South and North Korea. We have also made every effort to move the Gaeseong Industrial Complex forward under the position that it should be developed in conformity with international norms.

However, such assistance and the efforts of our Government have ultimately been wrongly harnessed in the service of upgrading North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

To date, the total amount of cash that flowed into North Korea through the Gaeseong Industrial Complex is 616 billion won (560 million dollars), with 132 billion won (120 million dollars) in cash having flowed into North Korea last year alone, and the Government and the private sector have invested a total of 1.019 trillion won. It appears that such funds have not been used to pave the way to peace as the international community had hoped, but rather to upgrade its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

This tramples on the efforts of the Korean Government and the 124 businesses that have set up shop in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, and puts at risk the lives and safety of the Korean people.

Today, in order to stop funds of the Gaeoseong Industrial Complex from being used to support the development of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities, and to prevent our businesses from suffering, the Government has decided to completely shut down the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.

We have notified the North Korean authorities of this decision and called on them to extend such cooperation as is rendered necessary by the complete shutdown of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, including the safe return of our citizens.

The Government will move expeditiously forward with all steps to ensure the safe return of our citizens, and will set up a Government Task Force under the Office for Government Policy Coordination to provide the necessary whole-of-government assistance to our businesses.

We ask for the full understanding of our people that the Government’s complete shutdown of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex is an unavoidable decision, which takes into account the seriousness of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and we call upon the people to stand with us as we seek to overcome such challenges.

Share

Naguib Sawiris is a US citizen!

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

According to Finance Uncovered:

Naguib Sawiris is a multi-billionaire telecoms magnate. A truly global citizen, he was born a Coptic Christian in Egypt and educated in Europe. His business empire is controlled from a luxurious tower on the banks of the Nile, yet according to Companies House filings he is usually resident in the the UK, where amongst other things, he runs a hedge fund. As Sawiris confirmed during a recent case before the UK supreme court, he has US citizenship.

He is also deeply involved in global politics: a large donor to Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid, a power broker in his native Egypt and a regular visitor to Davos. When trouble flared in Cairo after the overthrow of President Morsi, he was the then special envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair’s first port of call. That port being in San Tropez.

Sawiris’s fortune derives from managing the telecoms empire of his family’s business Orascom. Orascom Telecom Holdings was a global telecom player particularly in the developing world.

The company held licences across the globe, from Zimbabwe, Syria, Iraq, Italy and North Korea. When the majority of Orascom Telecom Holdings was sold to Russian telecom giant, Vimplecom in 2011 for $6.6bn, Koryolink, the North Korean cell phone network, was one of the few assets Sawiris held onto.

The North Korean adventure
After building telecoms networks in a number of challenging countries around the world, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) must have seemed like the final frontier for Sawiris.

At some point before 2008 he was introduced to the opportunity by Ri Chol, who at the time was the North Korean permanent representative to the UN in Geneva. It has been suggested that in addition to his diplomatic duties, Chol was also responsible for managing Kim Jong Il’s private bank accounts in Europe.

In 2010 Ri Chol was recalled to North Korea to be vice chair of the DPRK’s committee of investment.

After the initial introduction, Sawiris visited the country several times to build relationships with the North Korean leadership. He has been photographed with Kim Jong Il. The vice premier of the DPRK cabinet was at Koryolink’s grand opening in Pyongyang.

“It’s personal you know, I went drinking with these guys at night, we made jokes, we get along well, and I’ve done nice stuff there,” Sawiris told Euromoney in 2011. “I’ve repaired their tramways, I’ve recovered their hotel, donated medicine when they had the floods.”

The hotel mentioned by Sawiris is Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel. When construction began in 1987, it was the first building outside the United States of over 100 stories. Originally intended to be a display of North Korea’s might, the giant windowless concrete pyramid became a national embarrassment for the best part of two decades after building stopped in 1992. It resumed in 2008 by Orascom and the exterior has now been finished, although reports from the country suggest it is still an empty shell. Documents from Orascom indicate that the company spent over $30m on the hotel.

A profitable enterprise
The effort Sawiris made to gain access to the North Korean market seems to be paying off. Koryolink is making a lot of money in North Korea. The 2014 annual accounts of Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holdings (OTMT) show that the company made revenues in excess of $340m in its North Korea mobile phone (GSM) segment.

A Finance Uncovered analysis of Orascom Telecom’s 2012 annual accounts shows that the company’s two million North Korean subscribers – equivalent to 10% of the country’s population – made average revenue per user of $13 a month. These are huge revenues in a country where wages are very low. The best paid workers are said to be paid around $70 a month, according to recent reports. In 2013 average earnings were thought to be around $25-30 a month.

Recent news reports indicate that the company is having difficulty repatriating profits, and that the North Korean regime may have even appropriated the company. This is denied by OTMT.

How Koryolink manages to be so profitable is a mystery. Networks in other parts of OTMT’s former empire are far less lucrative. Djezzy, the phone network Sawiris set up in Algeria achieves an average revenue per user of $9 according to the 2012 annual report of Global Telecom Holdings despite Algeria having a GDP per capita more than four times North Korea’s. In Pakistan, Mobilink, another former Sawiris company with 36.1m subscribers generates $2.50 per user. In Bangladesh it is $1.70 per user.

Sawiris splits the substantial profits of the cell phone business with the North Korean regime, who also have a stake in the business. According to some analysts the North Korean Regime has earned between $400m-$600m from the cell phone industry up to early 2013.

Orabank
Cell phones are not Sawiris’s only business in North Korea. Buried in the list of subsidiaries in the Orascom Telecom and Media Holdings accounts is a reference to another enterprise, Orabank. This bank is not mentioned anywhere else in the annual report.

According to a report from Bloomberg, Orabank was opened the day after Koryolink in a ceremony in Pyongyang. An organisational chart filed with the SEC at the time of the Vimplecom merger in 2011 shows that Ora Bank NK is a subsidiary of Oracap Far East, of Malta.

With the huge difficulty faced by companies moving money into and out of North Korea, it is not unusual for a company operating in the country to set up their own bank. But these tend to be “hotel room operations” – nothing more than a telex machine in a hotel room.

Orascom’s accounts suggest that Orabank is a much more substantial enterprise. The first quarter report of 2009 from Orascom Telecom Holdings shows that Oracap Far East paid $1m for a licence to operate a bank, had $180,000 in cash and had committed to invest $127m.

The 2010 annual accounts of Orascom Telecom Holdings shows that the company wrote off $48m that it had invested in Orabank.

What exactly Orabank does is difficult to know. Other than these brief snapshots, there is no mention of Orabank’s revenues or business activities in Orascom annual reports.

Sensitive links
Sawiris’s various businesses in North Korea may raise some eyebrows in Washington DC. Not only is Sawiris a political mover and shaker, documents found by Finance Uncovered show that Koryolink and Orabank has a link to the US defence industry.

Sawiris’s North Korean businesses are owned by OTMT in Egypt. The majority of OTMT is owned by OTMTI in Luxembourg. According to a Federal Communications Commission application form submitted by another Sawiris company, Accelero Capital Investment Holdings, OTMTI is in turn is owned by companies based in the Cayman Islands. The eventual owner is the Marchmont Trust, a Jersey family trust. The trustee, who looks after the Trust’s assets is the February Private Trust Company, which is based in the UK Crown Dependency and tax haven, Jersey.

As of 2012, one of the five directors of the February Private Trust Company was Kevin Struve. At the same time, Struve was also a director of Contrack International, now Contrack Watts, a major US defence contractor and another Sawiris family owned business. As of last year, the latest data available at the Virginia SEC, Mr Struve is still listed as a director of Contrack.

We tried to contact Struve to ask him whether it is appropriate for the director of a US defence contractor to control businesses with high level links to the North Korean regime. Struve did not respond to our questions.

Sanctions
Sawiris’s dealings with the North Korean regime raise issues with regards to sanctions. Few people we spoke to, including senior US officials, appeared to know that Sawiris was a US citizen, and so subject to the US sanctions regime.

US sanctions prohibit any US citizens from dealing with a person or entity appearing on the sanctions list. A spokesperson for the US Treasury, although refusing to comment on this case, said that the prohibition is drawn purposefully broad in order to cover a variety of interactions.

According to official North Korean media reports, Orabank is a joint venture with the North Korean Foreign Trade Bank (FTB). The FTB was designated by the Secretary to the Treasury Jacob Lew in 2013 as “a key financial node in North Korea’s WMD apparatus”.

Sanctions only apply to designated entities after entities are placed on the sanctions list. If Sawiris and his companies stopped dealing with the Foreign Trade Bank after it was placed on the sanctions list, then it has complied with the law.

But Orascom Telecom and Media Technology Holdings (which Naguib Sawiris is the CEO of appears to openly acknowledge a risk that business may be harmed by “enhanced enforcement” of sanctions. Buried in the small print of the OTMT annual report is the following disclaimer (emphasis added):

“There can be no assurance that if international sanctions are changed or subject to enhanced enforcement, the Company’s operating subsidiary in DPRK will be able to finance its operations transfer funds to and from the company or operate its mobile phone network in DPRK.”

We put it to Sawiris that the disclaimer in his company’s annual report was akin to an admission that the company may be breaking sanctions in North Korea. We also asked whether he had ever dealt with people or companies on the US Department of Treasury Sanctions List. We were told by a spokesperson that Mr Sawiris does not comment on these issues as a matter of policy.

It is unclear if Sawiris or OTMT has broken US sanctions. But the facts we have uncovered do raise serious questions.

For several years Sawiris has been free to operate a bank in North Korea, a joint venture with a financial institution which later was considered by the US Treasury to be financing the country’s WMD programme. He has shared the profits of his burgeoning mobile phone business with the regime, and appears to have given tens of millions of dollars to their projects.

All this was done as other Sawiris family companies received hundreds of millions of dollars from the US Department of Defense.

As world leaders around the world consider how sanctions against North Korea should be toughened in the wake of their latest nuclear test, perhaps next time they are in Davos, they should ask their old friend Naguib.

Share

Sinuiju International Economic Zone

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

No sooner do I publish an article on the Sinuiju International Economic Zone (read it here at 38 North) than the DPRK releases more information on it.

In the December issue of Foreign Trade (2015 No.4), the DPRK includes information on the zone, including this map:

Sinuiju-SEZ-Foreign-Trade-2015-4-scan

UPDATE: Dr. Haggard uploaded a nicer version of the image which you can see here.

The map indicates that the downtown area of Sinuiju and the western coast down to the new Amnok River Bridge will constitute the first phase of development. Space has been allocated for trade, industry, sewage, warehousing, and other designated areas. The map also indicates a new road is to be built linking the Wihwado Economic Zone (to the north east of the Sinuiju SEZ) with the new Yalu River Bridge (which has yet to be opened for business) and Ryongchon County.

Here is a satellite image of the specific areas being designated for the first phase of the zone with proposed roads added for visual effect:

Sinuiju-SEZ-Google-Earth-2015-12-1

This is what the article had to say about the zone:

Sinuiju International Economic Zone

Located in a border area, the zone has a bright prospect for the development of water and marine transport. Its development area is 40km2.

The Zone is a flat area composed of deposits of organic fine sand in the mouth of the Amnok. The average height of ground inside the bank is 45m, geomorphology is 0-.7% and the average height above the sea level is up to 100m.

Its annual average duration of sunshine 2,427 hours, annual percentage of sunshine is 58% and annual average precipitation is 1001.5 mm.

The first and second annual main winds are northeast and and north winds respectively. It has the northeast and north winds in winter and southwest wind in summer in the main.

The Sinuiju International Economic Zone will provide opportunity for bonded processing, bonded transportation, trade and financial business, tourism, hi-tech industry, and various other business activities.

To this end, it is planned to develop the zone into a comprehensive economic zone with a large-sized latest IT industry area, competitive production area, exports processing area, cargo area, trade and financial area, public service area, tourist area and a bonded port, and into an international city with an airport and trade port.

Encompassing the whole of Sinuiju and two ri surrounding it, the zone is already furnished with infrastructure. However, it is necessary to upgrade the existing infrastructure and expand its capacity and build in its suburbs on a preferential basis.

The items of the construction of infrastructure include port, airport, railways, roads, power station, heating, and gas-supply system, telecommunications (international, domestic, mobile and computer network), and water supply, sewage-treating and garbage disposing systems.

As the zone has rich and good workforce whose education level is higher than secondary education, and many competitive heavy- and light-industry factories and enterprises around it, the investment by foreign business will be cost-effective and conducive to its development.

Previous posts on the Sinuiju International Economic Zone can be found here. Previous posts on the Sinuiju Special Administrative Region can be found here.

The North Koreans have also set up the Sinuiju-River Amnok Tourist Zone which you can read about here.

The JoongAng Ilbo has additional information here.

Share

Orascom (OTMT) loses control of KoryoLink

Friday, November 20th, 2015

UPDATE 2 (2016-1-1): According to the Wall Street Journal:

Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris made billions of dollars from a global telecommunications empire that operated in authoritarian states from Zimbabwe to Pakistan. Now he is being dealt a potentially painful setback by one of the global economy’s biggest pariahs: North Korea.

Mr. Sawiris’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE built a highly profitable mobile phone business with around 3 million customers in the isolated nation, as cellphones became popular with wealthier North Koreans and the state eased restrictions on communications. The business earned around $270 million before taxes and depreciation on $344 million in revenue in 2014.

But in the last few years, a state-run competitor emerged in North Korea, and Cairo-based Orascom hit problems trying to repatriate profits. Orascom said in a November filing in Egypt it had lost control of its 75%-owned North Korean venture, Koryolink, and struck the venture from its balance sheet, removing hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.

Mr. Sawiris, chief executive officer of both Orascom and the North Korean venture, is now trying to negotiate a solution. “We are still hopeful that we will be able to resolve all pending issues to continue this successful journey,” he said in a statement accompanying the filing.

Orascom’s auditor, however, cited the “futility of negotiation” with North Korea over Koryolink’s assets, which the company said were worth $832 million at the end of June, including cash in North Korean won worth $653 million at the official exchange rate. Koryolink, which now accounts for 85% of Orascom’s revenue and profit, says it hasn’t been able to send any funds out of North Korea in 2015 due to local currency controls and international sanctions targeting Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Sawiris didn’t respond to requests for comment and Orascom declined to make him available for interview. A spokesman for Orascom reiterated the company’s public statements and didn’t respond to further questions. North Korea hasn’t referred to the dispute in its state media and relevant officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

How North Korea resolves the dispute could bear on its plans to cultivate foreign investment to develop the moribund economy. In recent years, Pyongyang has created more than 20 special economic zones for investors and announced local regulations intended to reassure foreigners.

In November, North Korea state media said foreign firms would be able to repatriate profits from one zone in the far northeast of the country “without restriction.”

The setback for Mr. Sawiris, 61 years old, underscores the risk of doing business in North Korea, where foreign firms have complained that property and profits have been appropriated by the government. In 2012, a Chinese mining company said North Korea arbitrarily took over its metal-processing facility in the country. Pyongyang in turn publicly accused the firm of failing to meet investment commitments.

Orascom says talks with the North Korean government to resolve its difficulties have included a possible merger with the rival carrier, Byol. However, North Korea has indicated it wouldn’t give Orascom management control of the combined entity and those talks have stalled, the Egyptian company said in November board minutes, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. As a result, “control over Koryolink’s activities was lost” according to accounting rules, the company said in its latest earnings report.

Few companies venture into North Korea. But for the outspoken Mr. Sawiris—who describes himself as a “freedom fighter” on his verified Twitter profile, and who has experience operating in difficult environments—a bet on the hermit kingdom made sense.

Since 1997, Orascom has built and run mobile networks in more than 20 countries across Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Its strategy: Load up on debt to build networks quickly in risky markets with little or no infrastructure, betting on rapid growth and strong returns, then sell when the market matures and more players materialize.

Orascom operated in many politically unstable nations such as Yemen and Bangladesh. In most cases, the gamble paid off. In 2003, Orascom paid $5 million for one of Iraq’s first mobile network licenses. Its local partner faced kidnappings of staff and attacks on property from insurgents, but in 2007 Orascom sold its Iraq operations for $1.2 billion to a Kuwaiti company.

There have been some setbacks. Orascom’s joint venture in Syria with a company run by a cousin of President Bashar al-Assad fell apart in 2002 when a Syrian court handed the Egyptian company’s share of the venture to the local partner.

In 2011, Mr. Sawiris sold most of his telecommunications assets to Russian mobile operator VimpelCom Ltd. in a deal worth $6 billion. Koryolink was one of the few assets he kept.

Orascom’s operations in North Korea began when the country awarded Koryolink the rights to operate its only mobile network from late 2008 through the end of 2012. North Korea had scrapped an earlier project in the country with a Thai firm in 2004, because of fears the network was vulnerable to spies.

Koryolink started with around 18 foreign staff based at a hotel in the capital city, according to Madani Hozaien, Koryolink’s chief financial officer from late 2008 to mid-2009. North Korea’s tight restrictions on travel made it difficult to manage network facilities and deals with local counterparts were hard to put together, he said.

“Once we had an agreement with one group, another team would appear and we’d have to start again,” he said.

Ihab Shafik, a human resources and administration manager for Koryolink from 2009 to 2012, said the company’s North Korean staff sometimes operated independently. “They built GSM [Global System for Mobile communications] towers without informing us and we discovered them later,” he said.

North Korean authorities gradually from 2008 allowed most members of the public to sign up for mobile service, although they can only make domestic calls and don’t have Internet access.

While mobile phones remain very expensive for most North Koreans, visitors to Pyongyang report that they’re a common sight. Defectors from the country say they have become increasingly important information tools for traders as North Korea’s unofficial market economy has grown in recent years. North Korea state media has even touted the country’s own smartphone, although it is generally considered a rebranded Chinese model.

Orascom’s problems in North Korea appear to have built during the final year of its exclusivity clause in 2012. Koryolink’s annual report for the year noted “restrictions on cash transfers from local currency” in explaining a $272 million cash balance held inside the country, that more than doubled to June 30.

The company’s board meeting to ratify first quarter results in 2015 was postponed by over a month “due to the delay of the negotiations with the North Korean side to solve the problems arising out of the transfer of dividends, the currency exchange rates and the operational problems that has recently emerged,” minutes from the meeting reviewed by the Journal said.

Orascom’s share price fell sharply on the Egyptian stock exchange after the company announced it was removing the North Korean operations from its consolidated earnings. The price has risen recently after Orascom announced plans to buy two financial companies, part of Mr. Sawiris’ effort to move away from telecommunications.

Experts on the North Korean economy say Orascom’s difficulty in repatriating funds is largely due to North Korea’s inability or reluctance to convert Koryolink’s cash to foreign currency from North Korean won at the official exchange rate. North Korea suffers constant shortages of foreign exchange and its own currency is worthless outside its borders.

In 2013, Orascom also was caught up in U.S. sanctions on North Korea, when a bank it had set up with a North Korean partner, which Koryolink uses for financial transactions, was barred from accessing the U.S. financial system.

Here is additional coverage in the Chosun Ilbo.

UPDATE 1 (2015-12-11): Orascom CEO claims to still control KoryoLink, but cannot obtain hard currency or get it out of the country.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-11-20): Martyn Williams broke the story here.

The first problem is that Orascom could not repatriate its profits:

Orascom’s efforts to get its profits out of North Korea have been unsuccessful, partially because of international sanctions imposed on the country but mainly by the government’s refusal to let the money go.

To transfer money out of North Korea, Orascom needs permission from the government and it hasn’t been granted, despite it being a partner in the joint venture.

The government hasn’t acted because it can’t afford to.

The profits are held in North Korean won, but the currency isn’t traded internationally and the government’s official rate is set artificially high, at 100 won to the U.S. dollar. At that rate, Orascon’s holding at the end of last year was worth $585 million.

But at the black market exchange rate, which is effectively the real value of the currency in North Korea, the cash is worth only $7.2 million. And therein lies the problem. The government can’t afford to pay the money at the official rate, and it can’t be seen to officially recognize the black market rate. So the two sides have spent months locked in talks about what to do.

Secondly, the DPRK government launched a second cell phone network to compete with KoryoLink, and efforts to merge the companies have been successful:

The issue came to light in an auditor’s report in June, and a month later Orascom dropped a bombshell: It said the North Korean government — supposedly its close partner — had set up a second carrier to compete with Koryolink.

With its options limited, Orascom entered merger talks to combine Koryolink with the new carrier. The North Korean government has agreed to the move in principle, but so far nothing has happened.

What’s more, the North Korean government has apparently proposed that it be the majority partner in any new venture that’s formed.

That led to a dramatic statement from Orascom when it reported its financial results Monday — “in the group management’s view, control over Koryolink’s activities was lost.”

Sawiris appears to hold out hope, but he might be out of moves.

“We are very proud of the success of our operation ‘Koryolink’,” he said in a statement. “We have around 3 million people today carrying our phones in the DPRK. We are still hopeful that we will be able to resolve all pending issues to continue this successful journey.”

Anna Fifield also followed up in the Washington Post and reported on the name of the new KoryoLink competitor:

This comes after Orascom discovered that North Korea was starting a competitor to Koryolink called Byol, and then began discussions about merging it with Koryolink, thus presumably extracting even more money from Orascom.

Byol (별) translates to English as “Star”.

Here is the OTMT financial report which explains the company’s position (PDF).

Here are screen shots of the relevant sections in the report:

OTMT-report-2015-11-associate

And

OTMT-report-2015-11-other-operator

OTMT-report-2015-11-other-operator2

A small correction needs to be added to the OTMT report, the Central Bank does not set the official exchange rate. That is set by the Foreign Trade Bank.

As Marcus Noland and I have pointed out, North Korea needs a big FDI win to inspire more large-scale foreign investment and modernize its investment regulatory framework, but debacles like this, Xiyang, and the KIC (referring here to the fact that it was too entangled in political risk to be a reliable investment without official subsidies and guarantees) reinforce the view that the DPRK is still too risky to become an attractive investment hub–and this excludes additional problems owing to the country’s weapons programs and human rights abuses.

 

Share