Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Category

Humanitarian aid to DPRK almost flat on-year in H1 2015

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The growth of humanitarian aid sent to North Korea stayed almost flat in the first half from a year earlier, a U.N. agency said Wednesday, raising concerns about food shortages in the North.

The global community’s humanitarian assistance to the North amounted to a combined US$21.3 million in the January-June period, compared to $20.6 million in the same period last year, according to data compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

But the figure in the first half marked a 40 percent decline when compared to $35.6 million in the first half of 2013, it showed.

The U.N. and six countries — South Korea, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, France and Germany — supplied humanitarian aid to Pyongyang this year.

Switzerland was the top donor with $9.17 million, or 43 percent of the total aid, followed by South Korea with $4 million and Sweden with $3.23 million, the data showed.

By type, food and nutrition aid topped the list with $9.64 million worth contributed, followed by healthcare work at $6.2 million, and the supply of drinking water at $2.4 million, it said.

A separate U.N. report showed that about 70 percent of North Korea’s 24.6 million people are suffering due to food shortages and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutritional food supplies aimed at fighting malnutrition.

Aid from China and Russia would not appear in this study.

Read the full story here:
Humanitarian aid to N. Korea almost flat on-year in H1


DPRK still owes Sweden for old Volvos

Friday, August 29th, 2014

According to Newsweek:

North Korea’s foremost trade debt to the western world is bizarre even by North Korean standards. Each time the administration misses a payment, as it has done every year for the past 40 years, we are reminded of one of the most unexpected political twists of the last century: Kim Il-sung scamming Sweden out of 1,000 Volvo 144 sedans.

Each fiscal year, the Swedish Export Credits Guarantee Board calculates interest on a single debt that accounts for more than half of all its political claims. It’s been a tradition since 1974, when the government agency was advised to insure Volvo, Atlas Copco, Kockum, and other Swedish companies’ exports to an entirely new buyer: Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung. For nearly half a century, the Board has been in charge of the Sisyphean task of coaxing €300m from a nation that thinks international law is an elaborate gambit designed by capitalist pig-dogs.

“We semi-annually advise when payments fall due,” Stefan Karlsson, the board’s head of risk advisory, tells Newsweek. “However, as is well known, North Korea does not fulfil their part of the agreement.” Sweden being Sweden and North Korea being North Korea, that’s about as hardball as it gets.

Small wonder that a regime so impressed with itself soon developed expensive taste. “Inside the 144 GL you sit on leather,” reads the unambiguous 1970s marketing material that Volvo likely sent its North Korean buyers. Together with contemporary industry giants Atlas Copco and Kockums, Volvo was one of the first European companies to foray into the North Korean market, and promptly received an order for 1,000 vehicles, the first of which were delivered in 1974. But less than a year later, the venture blew up at a Swedish-Korean industrial trade fair in Pyongyang, where it suddenly became clear that the Kim regime wasn’t actually paying for the goods it was importing – not even the machines it ordered for the expo. The bills were simply piling up.

Exporters realised that the venture had gone horribly wrong. But for the past few years, Sweden had had North Korea fever, with countless hours and funds spent on diplomatic and industrial ties. Acquiescing in a massive failure was not easy. “Many had been blinded by North Korea’s impressive economic growth – people had raced to get there first,” Lamm Nordenskiöld says. “Sweden was supposed to be the first country to unlock this new market.”

While many companies pressed on with payment negotiations in an effort to save face, Swedish media was having a blast unraveling one of the most bizarre trade debacles in recent memory. In an indignant spread featuring a photo of the supreme leader with the caption “Kim Il-sung – Broke Communist,” Åge Ramsby of the newspaper Expressen in 1976 went all out listing reports of other debts the Kim regime shirked, including a cool €5m to Swiss Rolex, from whom it had allegedly ordered 2,000 wristwatches with the engraving “donated by Kim Il-sung”.

“North Korea had expected to pay their foreign debts with deliveries of copper and zinc,” the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter wrote in 1976, referring to the reserves the imported mining equipment was supposed to unlock. “But the North Korean economists had been too optimistic in their calculations, and the international market price for these ores had also dropped ­catastrophically.”

Fair enough – but two things suggest that botched calculations and sheer lack of funds only partially explain North Korea’s failure to pay up. First, it is widely accepted among biographers and manufacturers that the Kim regime conducted extensive industrial espionage during the trade fair. Colluding to cop specs from technology you’re paying for would be weird even by Kim’s standards.

More importantly, Erik Cornell, a diplomat and former Swedish ambassador to North Korea, recalls in his book North Korea: Emissary to Paradise a widespread local belief that the Western world had finally “seen the light” in the global struggle against the American imperialist – that Europe had recognised its duty to assist the brave People’s Republic, and that quibbles regarding who owed whom money would soon dissolve in grand efforts to crush capitalism as a whole.

Adjusted for interest and inflation, the debt to the Swedish state now exceeds three billion Swedish kronor, or €300m. It is an astronomical claim, particularly on capital that has depreciated to a fraction of its original value.

If Kim Jong-un and his officers rounded up all 1,000 vehicles and sold each of them at the current book value of about €2,000, they would raise 0.6% of the debt.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Owes Sweden €300m for 1,000 Volvos It Stole 40 Years Ago – And Is Still Using
John Ericson


Noko Jeans sales to expand beyond Sweden

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

According to RFA, the company announced a plan to open outlets selling its jeans in many locations outside of Sweden.

Encouraged by growing sales, the company has been carrying out aggressive marketing activities since the beginning of this year, including promoting products, expanding outlets, and seeking overseas markets.

The Swedish firm signed a contract with North Korea to produce the jeans in 2008. Available from both online and offline stores since last December, they come in one style for men and one for women with a price tag of US$210.

Read the full story here:
Market for N.Korea-Made Jeans to Expand
Choson Ilbo


NOKO Jeans update

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

The guys at NOKO Jeans did an interview discussing the process of launching a business venture in the DPRK.  Read the interview here.

The group also posted some very nice pictures of their train ride to Pyongayng here.  The whole set is worth checking out, but here is one that I liked:


And who says entrepreneurship is dead in Europe?  One of the guys on the team put his images into a photo album which he is selling on line here.


DPRK emigration data

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Josh points out this table from the UNHCR (originally published by RFA):


Click image for larger version.


US citizens: If you want NOKO jeans you need to go through OFAC

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

NOKO Jeans are finally for sale on their web page here.  However they include a not-so-subtle warning to American shoppers:

Important regarding ordering from the USA: at this time, goods of North Korean origin may not be imported into the United States either directly or indirectly without prior notification to and approval of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). You need to apply for this in order to import goods produced in North Korea. Contact OFAC here: It is the buyer’s responsibility to get this approval.

OFACS is the same outfit that is supposed to go after you if you visit Cuba.  I am not recommending you do so, but it semes to me that it would just be a lot easier to have a friend in Europe order them for you…

Read previous NOKO posts here.


Friday Grab Bag: NOKO Jeans go on sale; Korea Today turns 60

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

UPDATE 2: NOKO Jeans are on sale here and here.

UPDATE : It looks like the NOKO Jeans launch did not go off as expected. The Swedish department store in which the jenas were to go on sale has pulled the plug on NOKO’s retail space at the last minute.  According to the AFP (Via Singapore’s Straits Times):

A SWEDISH department store on Saturday cancelled what was to be the sale of the ‘first ever’ brand of jeans made in North Korea, the Swedish company behind the communist-made dark denims said.

‘Apparently PUB has censored our exhibition/store by shutting it down and ‘confiscating’ the jeans because of the ‘working conditions in North Korea’,’ Jakob Ohlsson of company Noko Jeans told AFP in an email. ‘At first i thought it was a joke but everything has been removed from the store,’ he added.

Mr Ohlsson, along with Jacob Aastroem and Tor Rauden Kaellstigen – all under the age of 25 and with no previous experience in business or fashion – started Noko Jeans in mid-2007, prompted by a desire to enter in contact with isolationist North Korea.

Their designer jeans were to be sold starting on Saturday at Aplace, a boutique that is a tenant of the trendy PUB department store in central Stockholm. ‘A half-hour before opening, we got a call from the head of the department store and he explained to me… that PUB cannot sell the Noko Jeans,’ Kalle Tollmar, the founder and CEO of Aplace told AFP.

‘The explanation I got was that (the store’s management) had taken the decision… that PUB is not the right place, or platform, for this kind of political discussion,’ he said, confirming his store was hoping to continue distribution of the controversial duds at another location.

The Noko sales space at PUB was deserted on Saturday, the jeans removed and and surrounding photo exhibition taken down by the department store’s security. ‘They have it in a locked room at PUB but we have been promised to get everything back on Monday, it’s only for security reasons, they don’t want us to sell the jeans,’ Ms Tollmar said. — AFP

According to the AP:

A Stockholm department store says it won’t carry a new line of North Korean-made designer jeans because it doesn’t want ties to the isolated communist nation.

PUB store spokesman Rene Stephansen says it is “a political issue that PUB doesn’t want to be associated with.”

The Noko Jeans line is the brainchild of three Swedish entrepreneurs who hoped to help break North Korea’s isolation through increased trade with the West.

A spokesman for the retail space where Noko Jeans was selling its product says the jeans were taken off shelves early Saturday.

Noko Jeans spokesman Jacob Astrom says he regrets the decision is looking for a new shop location. The jeans will be available online.

The NOKO web page says that the jeans will be available on Monday, but in Sweden, Monday has nearly come and gone and the jeans are still not for sale on the web.

ORIGINAL POST: NOKO Jeans go on sale today.  According to Reuters:

Designer jeans labeled “Made in North Korea” will go on sale this Friday at a trendy department store in the Swedish capital, marking a first foray into Western fashion for the reclusive communist state.

The jeans, marketed under the “Noko” brand, carry a price tag of 1,500 Swedish crowns ($215) and will share shelf space at Stockholm’s PUB store with brands such as Guess and Levi’s.

Noko’s founders told Reuters they had spent over a year trying to gain access to factory operators in North Korea, and struggled with poor communications and an unfamiliar approach to doing business once inside the country.

“There is a political gap, there is a mental gap, and there is an economic gap,” said Jacob Astrom, one of three Swedish advertising executives behind the project. “All contacts with the country are difficult and remain so to this day.”

The idea for the project was born out of curiosity for North Korea, which has grown increasingly isolated in recent years under Western criticism of its human rights record and nuclear ambitions.

“The reason we did this was to come closer to a country that was very difficult to get into contact with,” Astrom said.

North Korea, a country better known for its reclusive nature than fashionable clothes, rarely allows outsiders within its borders and has virtually no trade or diplomatic relations with most Western countries. Sweden, one of only seven countries to have an embassy in North Korea, is an exception.

But the process of agreeing a deal to produce just 1,100 pairs of jeans — the first ever produced by the country, according to the founders — often proved baffling. E-mails vanished into a void and communications were strained.

At one point they were asked to bring a zinc smelting oven into the country, and a trade representative once asked them to help him find a pirated version of the computer program Adobe Acrobat so he could read files they were sending him.

“Everyone is a manager. Even our chauffeur was some sort of manager,” said founder Jakob Ohlsson, adding that North Korean titles were often confusing.

After being turned down by North Korea’s largest textile company, the group managed to secure a manufacturing deal with its largest mining company, Trade 4, which also happens to run a small textile operations on its site.

“This is often the way it works in North Korea,” said Ohlsson. “Companies seldom specialize and therefore often manage several operations that differ completely from one another.”

During the summer, the trio traveled to the factory in North Korea to oversee the production process and ensure that workers there were treated according to Noko’s guidelines.

“We were forced to operate by micro-management,” Ohlsson said, referring to his experience on the factory floor.

Fashionable novelty seekers can order Noko jeans from the company’s website after December 4, but you are not likely to see a pair on the streets of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, anytime soon.

Socialist dress code forbids them.

According to the BBC:

Mr Ohlsson explained black denim was chosen because North Koreans “usually associate blue jeans with America. That’s why it’s a little taboo”.

But the high ticket price for the jeans is not simply aimed at finding an exclusive niche in the market.

Mr Ohlsson admitted: “The reason they are so expensive is that we didn’t have any experience in fashion, trading, or anything like that.”

Read previous NOKO Jeans posts here, here, here and here.

Korea Today Turns 60.  According to Korea Today:

korea-today.jpgDecember 4 this year marks the 60th founding anniversary of The Foreign Language Magazines, DPRK.

On the occasion we extend heartfelt gratitude to our readers.

We began to publish our journal, titled New Korea, in January 1950, hoping to help the readers understand how the Koreans had lived before they got free from the Japanese colonial rule and engaged in building a sovereign independent state, what they were aspiring after and what course they would take in the future.

Later the title changed to Korea Today.

The monthly magazine has so far carried policies the Workers’ Party of Korea set forth in each stage of socialist construction, achievements the Korean people made in their implementation, independent and creative life of the working masses and their happiness as well as the history, geography and culture of Korea.

Also introduced are the struggle of the Koreans and other progressive people for reunifying the nation that has been divided into the north and the south for over 60 years and building a new independent world—in various styles and methods.

Published in Russian alone in the initial years, the monthly is now available in English, Chinese, French, Spanish and Arabic, too.

You can get access to Korea Today on the Naenara site.

We’ll do our best to help you know the realities of Korea where building of a thriving nation is on its height, the efforts of the Korean people for national reunification and the struggle of Koreans and other progressive people around the world for a new, free and peaceful world.

It is interesting that Korea Today would remind everyone that their first publications were in Russian and featured Pyongyang’s  Liberation Tower (located here) on the cover.  It removes all doubt about who was actually in control at the time (i.e. not Kim Il Sung). (Новая Корея=New Korea).

Korea Today is full of all sorts of interesting and useless tid-bits on the DPRK–such as this.

Korea Today, Korea, and Kumsukangsan are all published by the Pyongyang Foreign Languages Printing House (also turning 60) located here.

The Soviet equivalent of Korea Today, named Soviet Russia Today, published a piece about the early days of the DPRK by American communist Ana Louise Strong, who was one of the first Americans allowed into the country.  Learn more here.


Noko Jeans

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Some enterprising Swedes had some jeans manufactured in North Korea (where they can’t be worn in public) to be sold in the west.  The brand name is Noko Jeans.

The fist shipment  of appx 1,000 jeans arrived in Sweden on November 11, and the goods will go on sale December 4, 2009.

Here is a photo of the Noko jeans team with their shipment.

Here is a photo of all the  official stamps and approvals on the shipment.

IHere is their official web page:


DPRK diplos arrested for smuggling (again)

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

UPDATE:  According to the Boston Herald, the diplomats were sentenced to eight months in prison.

ORIGINAL POST: It is no secret that North Korean diplomats and embassies are self-financing.  In fact, they are profit earning and they must remit funds back to Pyongyang.  While this means that DPRK diplomatic relations are not a drain on the treasury, as is typically the case with other countries, it does mean that the DPRK’s official representatives are more likely to make headlines for their business dealings rather than political statements.

And so here is the latest installment in this saga from Reuters:

Swedish police have arrested two North Korean diplomats on suspicion of smuggling 230,000 cigarettes into the Nordic country, the Swedish Customs Office said Friday.

The pair, a man and a woman who have diplomatic status in Russia, were stopped by Swedish customs officers Wednesday morning as they drove off a ferry from Helsinki, the Finnish capital.

Customs officials discovered Russian cigarettes in the car driven by the couple, Swedish Customs spokeswoman Monica Magnusson told Reuters.

The two North Koreans claimed diplomatic immunity.

“They were accredited as diplomats in Russia, but had no accreditation in Sweden,” she said. “They were arrested on suspicion of smuggling.”

Magnusson added that the pair were still being held by Swedish police and that she was not aware of them having any contact with North Korean officials since their arrest.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said it had been informed of the arrests but would not comment directly on the matter, saying it was a criminal case and was being handled by the police.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Julin said foreign diplomats are only immune from criminal prosecution in countries where they have been accredited with the authorities.

“If you come to Sweden and commit a crime, you’re just like any other foreign national,” she said.

Sweden is one of only seven countries to have an embassy in North Korea, treated by much of the world as a rogue state due to human rights abuses and its possession of nuclear weapons despite opposition by the international community.

The Foreign Ministry said the arrests were primarily a police matter, but that the North Korean embassy in Sweden was in contact with the ministry over the matter.

An official at the North Korean embassy in Stockholm said earlier he had no knowledge of the arrests.

North Korean diplomatic staff were expelled from Sweden and two other countries in 1976 after a “massive” smuggling scheme was uncovered.  According to Time Magazine (in 1976):

Not in years have so many diplomatic persona suddenly been declared non grata. In Oslo, members of North Korea’s diplomatic mission—three bureaucrats and a chauffeur—were given six days to pack up and get out. Foreign Ministry officials frostily informed North Korea’s Ambassador to Stockholm, Kil Jae Gyong, who is also accredited to Oslo, that he was no longer welcome in Norway. Similar scenes took place in Helsinki and Copenhagen, and as of last week, twelve North Korean embassy staffers had been unceremoniously ordered home to Pyongyang.

International politics had nothing to do with the abrupt action by the Scandinavian governments. What had happened was that North Koreans in all three countries* had been caught red-handed in a massive smuggling racket involving liquor, cigarettes and dope —apparently instigated by the financially hard-pressed government of President Kim II Sung. Officials in Norway estimated that their branch of the Kim gang had smuggled into the country at least 4,000 bottles of booze (mostly Polish vodka) and 140,000 cigarettes, which were then given surreptitiously to Norwegian wholesalers for distribution on the black market. In Denmark, the illegal goodies impounded so far included 400 bottles of liquor, 4.5 million cigarettes and 147 kilos of hashish, which police confiscated two weeks ago from two Danes who had just bought the drug from North Korean embassy staffers.

Personal Use. How long the North Koreans have been into smuggling as a sideline remains unclear, but Scandinavian officials have been closely watching their business dealings for about five months. In Norway, neighbors of the neat brick North Korean embassy in Oslo’s West End had long been puzzled by the constant movement of cars in and out of the compound and by the sight of mission staffers struggling in the backyard with huge mysterious boxes. In Denmark, customs officials got suspicious last month when the North Koreans imported 2.5 million duty-free cigarettes, allegedly for the “personal use” of one staffer.

The discovery of illegal activity by the North Koreans in Scandinavia may be only the iceberg’s tip. Five months ago in Cairo, Egyptian officials caught two North Korean diplomats with 400 kilos of hashish in their luggage. A North Korean official assigned to Malaysia has also been recalled after dealing in smuggled goods.

The North Koreans have protested their innocence, and mission staffers in Finland insisted that they would not leave the country. Nonetheless, Scandinavian officials have little doubt that the smuggling was ordered by Pyongyang as a desperate measure to help resolve the government’s horrendous financial crisis. Western experts estimate that North Korea, with a G.N.P. of only $4.5 billion, has a foreign debt of more than $2 billion, at least $500 million of which is owed to the capitalist world. North Korea not only maintains some 60 expensive missions abroad but also buys millions of dollars’ worth of advertising space in newspapers round the world every year to publicize the latest speeches of Kim II Sung. Faced with a severe shortage of hard Western currency, officials speculate, North Korean diplomats turned to smuggling to support their missions and pay for the ads, sending any excess profits home to Pyongyang.

The DPRK embassy has also been accused of smuggling in Pakistan.

Sometimes the DPRK embassy staff make “good” business decisions.

Good article here with further info (h/t OneFreeKorea).

2007 CRS report: Drug Trafficking and North Korea: Issues for U.S. Policy

You could probably write a series of books on the DPRK embassies in Russia and  China.

And just for the record: Sweden–the North Koreans are not the only ones doing this–everyone is.  When I lived in Europe over 15 years ago I talked with fellow teenagers about doing this!  If you want to increase people’s incomes, increase tax receipts, and lower the incomes of mobsters and bootleggers–lower your cigarette taxes!

Read the full stories here:
Diplomats arrested for cigarette smuggling
Jens Hansegard

SCANDINAVIA: Smuggling Diplomats
Time Magazine


Recent DPRK trade and aid stories…

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

1. Dutch import DPRK clothing and machinery (via Yonhap):

Dutch companies gave purchase orders to clothing and machinery firms in North Korea following their visit there organized by the Chamber of Commerce of the Netherlands in September, said the Japan-based Choson Sinbo in a dispatch from Pyongyang.

“Exchange and cooperation projects that were agreed to in meetings between the Dutch business delegation and the DPRK Commercial Office are entering the stage of implementation,” the report said. DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Production by the (North) Korean clothing and machinery trade firms is underway according to the agreements,” it added.

Dutch businesses along with firms from 14 other countries participated in the Pyongyang Autumn International Fair held Sept. 21 to 24. North Korea holds a trade fair twice a year to draw foreign investment and boost technology exchanges.

The Choson Sinbo said the Dutch firms then showed interest in the information technology area, machinery parts and clothing goods and held talks with pertinent North Korean companies, such as the Joson Computer Center and Unha Clothing Company.

After returning home, the Dutch produced a report on North Korea’s international economic relations for distribution at home and in other Western European countries, the newspaper said.

2. Seoul sets DPRK official assistance budget.  According to Yonhap:

According to its 2010 budget plan submitted to the National Assembly unification, foreign affairs and trade committee, the Unification Ministry allocated 1.18 trillion won (US$1.02 billion), about the same as the earmarked budget for this year, for inter-Korean relations and exchanges.

“The ministry has reflected the government’s policy to continue to proceed with humanitarian projects despite the strained phase in inter-Korean relations,” the ministry proposal said.

Broken down to specifics, 616 billion won has been set aside for the possible resumption of rice and fertilizer aid that was suspended after President Lee Myung-bak took office last year. The sum is slightly less than the 718 billion won for this year but remains mostly untouched. The ministry cited the fall of grain prices as the reason for adjustment.

The amount will be worth 400,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer that had been annually provided to the North over the past decade. But Seoul officials have said they there is no immediate plan yet to resume the rice and fertilizer aid.

The ministry also set aside 18 billion won and 25 billion won to assist North Korea through non-governmental organizations or international agencies like the World Food Program.

For economic projects, including a joint industrial park in the North’s border town of Kaesong, the proposed budget earmarks 144.8 billion won, up 17 percent from the previous year.

“Massive economic cooperation projects were considered in preparation for the possibility of progress in the North Korean nuclear issue,” the ministry said.

It should be pointed out that Seoul has hardly touched its current inter-Korean assistance budget (here and here).  These sorts of policy moves are intended to offer Pyongyang a highly visible carrot.

3. Pyongyang’s 2009 Kaesong antics have unfortunately scared away more foreign direct investment from the Kaesong Zone, despite significant South Korean subsidies.  According to Yonhap:

Romanson Co., a South Korean watchmaker, said Thursday it has no intention to further invest in an inter-Korean industrial complex because of the political risks.

Romanson operates a plant in the industrial park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, which turns out 40,000 watches per month. In 2005, the company invested 6.1 billion won (US$5.3 million) to build the factory.

4. And the first shipment of NOKO Jeans have arrived in Europe!  Learn more at their Facebook Page.  Here is a photo of the shipment on Flickr.