Archive for the ‘International Organizaitons’ Category

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.

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Korean-American Sharing Movement donates to the DPRK

Monday, December 28th, 2015

According to the Baptist Standard:

A Korean Texas Baptist minister delivered two tons of noodles, 10 solar panels, two diesel generators and other supplies to a hospital in North Korea between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yoo Yoon, director of the Korean-American Sharing Movement of Dallas, also took 350 pairs of winter socks, two freezers, six pairs of tractor tires and three sewing machines to three schools for orphans in Kwangwon province.

Yoon has traveled to North Korea more than two-dozen times in the last 20 years, including four trips in 2015. He typically delivers corn and wheat noodles to schools, orphanages and hospitals. Donors have included Texas Baptist Men and several Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated churches, and Baylor Scott & White Health has contributed medical equipment.

In September, the North Korean government denied Yoon permission to distribute food to orphans, due to a change in policy. However, he provided food for the hospital on his most recent trip, and he brought other supplies to the medical center and the schools for orphans.

“I have learned to adjust myself to whatever circumstances through 20 years of North Korea missions,” said Yoon, former Korean field consultant with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

In September 2014, his daughter, Sara Yoon, an ophthalmologist, examined patients and consulted with doctors at the hospital in Wonsan City. On the most recent trip to North Korea, her father delivered batteries and bulbs for scopes and other equipment she purchased for the hospital’s ophthalmology department. He also distributed Christmas presents at the hospital.

“The Lord led me to tell them what Christmas is,” Yoon recalled. “So, I handed out 62 Christmas gifts to 62 people, letting them know it is a season of accepting a gift, since God sent his Son to forgive our sins.”

Read the full story here:
Texas Baptist delivers food and equipment to North Korean hospital
Baptist Standard
Ken Camp
2015-12-28

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Kim Jong-un announces need for financial reform

Monday, December 14th, 2015

(Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein)

The first meeting for 25 years of North Korean banking and finance officials was held a few weeks ago, Yonhap reported:

The Third National Conference of Financial and Banking Officials held on Sunday at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang was reported by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and Korean Central TV, monitored in Seoul.

“The conference reviewed successes and experience gained by those in the field of finance and banking in the past,” the KCNA said in an English report carried on Sunday.

The meeting also discussed ways to ensure “the financial guarantee for building a thriving nation,” according to the state media.

In a letter sent to the conference, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un highlighted the important role of the financial sector for national development.

“To improve financial and banking work is an inevitable demand for hastening the building of a thriving nation,” Kim was quoted as saying in the letter. “Reliable financial resources are necessary to build the people’s paradise featured by strong national power and great prosperity.”

Kim also ordered “revolutionary measures for steady development” of the financial system, as well as “fluent circulation of currency.”

It was North Korea’s first meeting of its kind since the last second session was held in September 1990 under the leadership of late leader and North Korean founder Kim II-sung.

Read the full article:
N.Korea hosts 1st bankers’ meeting in 25 yrs
Yonhap News
2015-12-14

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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.

 

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How a telecom investment in North Korea went horribly wrong

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In PC World, Martyn Williams of North Korea Tech has an interesting piece on the story of Orascom in North Korea:

An Egyptian company that launched North Korea’s first 3G cellular network and attracted as many as 3 million subscribers has revealed that it lost control of the operator despite owning a majority stake.

The plight of Orascom Telecom and Media Technology in North Korea takes place against a backdrop of rapid telecom modernization and a public eager to adopt a new technology. It’s ultimately a lesson in the perils of getting into bed with a government that’s not known for respecting international law.

When Orascom announced plans to launch the 3G service in 2008 it met with skepticism. The North Korean government severely limits its citizens’ ability to communicate and has jailed or killed anyone who speaks out against the regime. The regime has regularly threatened war against its foes and was under sanctions at the time for a 2006 nuclear test.

But Orascom Chairman Naguib Sawiris saw something else: a land that technology had forgotten. He’d successfully built cellular networks in other developing countries, and North Korea seemed a perfect candidate, especially with its low fixed-line penetration.

Read the full story:

How a telecom investment in North Korea went horribly wrong
PC World
Martyn Williams
11-17-2015

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DPRK-China trade through 2014

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Stephan Haggard posted some charts of DPRK-China trade taken from KOTRA:

North-Korean-China-Trade-from-KOTRA

North-Korean-Trade-including-North-South-Trade

North-Korean-Exports-and-Imports-from-KOTRA

 

 

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Phoenix Commercial Ventures terminates its association with Hana

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

According to the PCV web page:

As a result of irreconcilable differences between the board of Phoenix and the local management, Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd has terminated its association with Hana Electronics JVC with immediate effect.

Hana Electronics JVC was a 50/50 joint venture between Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd and the trading department of The Ministry of Culture.

Phoenix has no further connection with Hana or any interests (direct or indirect) in its operations.

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2015 North Korea floods

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Just like most summers for the past few years, North Korea has once again been hit by flooding. According to the International Red Cross (IFRC):

The Democratic People’s Republic of  Korea (DPRK) is experiencing flooding associated with seasonal rains, hitting areas like Hwanghae and the south and north Hamgyong provinces since early August. According to the State Committee on Emergency and Disaster Management (SCEDM), the Government of  DPRK and DPRK Red Cross Society, 3,455 people were affected, 21 were reported dead while 9 others remain missing. The floods have damaged or destroyed 968 houses and are expected to worsen in the coming days as the rainy season continues.

So far, the damage seems far smaller than the floods of both 2012 and 2013. For example, the number of people “affected” is reported as 3,455 people and 968 houses have been destroyed (see above quote), but in 2013, about 4,000 families lost their homes and 50,000 people were displaced. The number of deaths is also far smaller than in 2013 (33) and 2012 (169).

The South Korean government is thinking about stepping in. Korea Herald reports:

The Unification Ministry said that the government is reviewing whether to help North Korea cope with the flood.

“We are checking the damage from the flood in North Korea, based on data by the weather agency and international organizations,” Jeong Joon-hee, the ministry’s spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

Jeong said that the government would take into account various factors, including the level of the damage and the North’s reaction before making its decision.

Either the Red Cross and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are using different assessment methods, or the counts have been upped in between August 10th and 12th. Of course, it is also possible that more rain has fallen and increased the damage. The OCHA reported in their “Snapshot” document for the period between August 4th and 10th that “over 698 houses” had been destroyed while the Red Cross gave the figure 968.

The UPI also reports on the flooding, citing the OCHA figures:

North Korea is recovering from torrential rains that caused 21 deaths between Aug. 1 and 5, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The OCHA report published Monday said rains and subsequent flooding in South Hwanghae, South Hamgyong and North Hamgyong provinces affected 3,400 people.

The U.N. said 21 have died and nine are still missing. The floods destroyed 690 houses and brought down public infrastructure, including roads, bridges and dams.

Crops also were seriously damaged – 4,000 hectares in total, according to the report.

The U.N. agency said the North Korean Red Cross is closely cooperating with local authorities to assess the scope of the damage. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is working with Pyongyang’s Red Cross to distribute relief aid to seven communities across the three provinces.

Rodong Sinmun also reports on the flood damage today, saying that the previously purged but resurrected Premier Pak Pong-ju has surveyed the flooding damage:

DPRK Premier Pak Pong Ju made a field survey of the flood damage in South Hwanghae Province.

Torrential rain and tsunami hit the province early this month, leaving breakwaters partially destroyed and dwelling houses, roads, railways and bridges inundated and damaged.

Farmland in some areas was inundated and washed away, making it hard to expect any harvest.

Going round several afflicted areas in Haeju City, Pyoksong and Sinwon counties, he learned about the damage there.

The consultative meeting convened on the spot discussed the issue of conducting the work for recovering from damage, directing primary efforts to bringing the living of the people in the afflicted areas to normal.

As the summer moves on, more is sure to follow.

(UPDATE): Here is the report from KCNA (2015-8-12):

Flood Damage in DPRK

Pyongyang, August 12, 2015 19:51 KST (KCNA) — South Hwanghae Province of the DPRK was hit hard by flood.

Early this month, the province witnessed downpour and tidal waves due to the seasonal rainy front that swept over the whole country.

Much rainfall was registered in all parts of the province. In particular, rainfall of 397 millimeters was observed in Pyoksong County between 18:00 of August 4 and 12:00 of August 5, 205 mm in Haeju City, 152 mm in Ongjin County and 125 mm in Sinwon County.

The downpour left more than 10 people dead, hundreds of dwelling houses destroyed and more than 1 000 hectares of arable land inundated or washed away.

Meanwhile, tidal waves left the dykes partially destroyed and roads, railways and bridges inundated or ruined.

At present servicepersons and inhabitants in the afflicted areas are working hard to clear away the flood damage.

(UPDATE): Radio Free Asia (2015-8-14) reports that river barriers ordered built by the government have come to exacerbate the flooding damage:

River barriers that North Korean authorities built to help irrigate crops affected by a recent drought may have contributed to the destruction caused by floods in certain parts of the country, sources inside the isolated nation said.

The barriers constructed by authorities in spring blocked the flow of water through gorges, so that torrential rains which fell in parts of the country at a high elevation in early August overflowed, destroying farmland and houses, said a source in North Hamgyong province, one of the affected areas.

“Despite strong opinions that the barriers to enable irrigation should be eliminated to prevent flood damage, nobody took any action,” he said. “Since the barriers were set up under [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un’s order, no executive order could bring them down.”

Before the river barriers were built, some North Koreans pointed out that building them could cause greater flood damage, he said, but the warning fell on deaf ears.

The city of Hoeryong in North Hamgying province experienced downpours from late July to early August, and authorities declared Hwadea, Kiljou, and Myongchon counties flood-affected areas, he said.

They also declared the city of Tanchon and Heocheon and Riwon counties in South Hamgyong province flood-affected areas, he said.

The drought damage has become worse because of Kim Jong Un’s inflexible instructions, the source added.

Read the full story here:

North Korean flood Damage Made Worse by River Barriers

Sung-hui Moon

Radio Free Asia

2015-8-14

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North Korean workers in the Middle East

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea used civilian passenger planes to transport hard currency seized from expat laborers in the Middle East following the closure of its overseas banks for violating international law.

Sources said since prosecutors in Kuwait ordered the closure of the local branch of North Korea’s Trade Bank on charges of money laundering and illicit transfers, the North has used twice-monthly Air Koryo flights to Kuwait to ferry seized wages back to the North.

There are 50,000 to 60,000 North Korean laborers in 16 countries. In Kuwait, there have been some 4,000 since 1995, toiling at construction sites and receiving around W1 million a month (US$1=W1,123), of which the regime confiscates 70 to 80 percent.

The workers send the remainder back to their families in the North and often survive by begging or taking on overtime and extra menial jobs.

Around 2,000 North Koreans work in the United Arab Emirates and 1,800 in Qatar.

Sources said the bank’s Kuwait branch has sent back more than US$1 billion to North Korea over the last 20 years confiscated from laborers.

The bank has been blacklisted by the U.S. government for funding the development of weapons of mass destruction, and the local branch had been under investigation by Kuwaiti authorities over the last two years. Kuwaiti prosecutors seized around $1 million from the branch on suspicion of money laundering.

According to sources, North Korea has filed a lawsuit in order to recover the seized money.

One source said officials from companies supplying North Korean workers now board Air Koryo planes with suitcases stuffed with cash, while laborers are sending back money to their families through ordinary passengers.

“Air Koryo has become a new channel used to transport tens of millions of dollars of money to the Workers Party,” which runs the bank, the source said.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea Uses Civilian Airliners to Haul Hard Currency
Choson Ilbo
2015-7-3

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KoryoLink drops subscription fees

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

According to Radio Free Asia:

A dramatic decrease in the monthly rate for cellphone services in impoverished North Korea has seen the number of subscribers skyrocket, but sources inside the reclusive nation say the data may be misleading, as people sign up for two mobile phones at once in order to avoid massive overage fees.

The cost of using a cellphone on Koryolink’s 3G network dropped from 25 yuan (U.S. $4) per month at the end of 2013 to a maximum of 1,000 won, or 1 yuan (U.S. $0.16), in 2014, prompting North Koreans to sign up in droves, according to an official with the Wireless Service Department in Yanggang province.

The surge in subscriptions has prompted the government to open a number of storefronts staffed with agents to deal with the demand and sell cellphones associated with the services, the source said, speaking to RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity.

“Since last year, cellphone agencies have been established in each city and province,” he said.

“In Hyesan (the administrative center of Yanggang province), a cellphone agency was set up next to the Kim Jong Suk Art Theater (named after the grandmother of current regime leader Kim Jong Un), where many people often gather.”

According to the source, the base rate of 1 yuan per month provides subscribers with up to four hours of free calls and 20 text messages. Calls and other services in North Korea are limited to usage within the country only, except for resident foreigners, tourists and selected elite members of society.

The Wireless Service Department official did not provide statistics for the increase in subscribers.

Orascom, an Egyptian telecom company that jointly operates Koryolink with the state-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation, has said around 2.4 million, or 10 percent, of the country’s estimated 24 million people were signed up with the carrier by the end of June 2014.

In comparison, Orascom said Koryolink had hit 2 million users in May 2013, adding a million subscribers in the 15 months prior.

Inflated numbers

A second source from North Hamgyong province told RFA that the recent increase in subscriptions, linked to the purchase of new phones, had earned praise from central authorities.

“Last year, North Hamgyong province took first place in national sales of cellular phones and the head of its Wireless Service Department received a commendation,” the source said, adding that the capital Pyongyang came in second place, followed by North Pyongan province.

But while the base rates for cellphone services are cheap, subscribers are charged exorbitant fees totaling as much as 100 times the cost of monthly services if usage limits are exceeded, he said.

Because four hours of free talk time and 20 text messages are insufficient, the source said most merchants and officials choose to purchase two cellphones and subscribe to plans for both, allowing them to double usage each month and avoid the high overage fees.

The double purchasing of phones and monthly services had artificially inflated the number of subscribers, he said.

Skeptics have questioned the accuracy of Orascom’s claim of 2.4 million subscribers, saying that—after subtracting a standing army of 1 million soldiers who cannot own cellphones due to security reasons and at least 3 million children aged 10 years or younger—it would suggest more than one in 10 of North Korea’s mostly poverty-stricken citizens use mobile services.

Reports also say that handsets which operate on Chinese networks across the border are regularly smuggled into the country, further complicating estimates of how many cellphone users there are in the North.

North Koreans are reportedly allowed to access only certain 3G services with their cellphones, including SMS and MMS messaging and video calls, but not the Internet.

Read the full story here:
Dramatic Decrease in Mobile Rates Draws Subscribers in North Korea
Radio Free Asia
2015-07-01

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