Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

Strange UK-DPRK fraud case

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I still have not had time to pay much attention to this story, but here is the coverage by the major British media outlets:

The Economist:

SVEN GORAN ERIKSSON, a Swedish football manager of some repute, is a man known as much for his wide travels as he is for his colourful love life. After scoring great success in Italy, he managed the national teams of England, Mexico, and the Côte d’Ivoire. Even seasoned Sven-watchers however were surprised when he rocked up in North Korea in 2009.

This week it was reported that he had been there at the behest of one Russell King, a convicted conman, who had managed to convince a London financial institution, the government of North Korea, and Mr Eriksson himself that he was managing billions of dollars on behalf of the Bahraini royal family.

A report on the BBC’s investigative news programme “Panorama” (or, if you’re outside the viewing area) has it that Mr King, who is now believed to be on the lam in Bahrain, first convinced directors of small investment bank First London Plc to hand over 49% of the company to him, in return for his apparently colossal business. This done, he used First London to finance an investment in Notts County, a Midlands football club with a proud history, now plying its trade in the lower divisions.

Mr Eriksson, drawn in by the promise of shares in Swiss Commodity Holdings (SCH), a vehicle of Mr King’s, was duly installed as football director at County. He was joined there for a time by another fellow dupe, Sol Campbell, an ex-Arsenal and England star. Messrs King and Eriksson ventured to Pyongyang on SCH business, where they are reported to have made a deal with officials in the North Korean government to grant them exclusive rights to the impoverished nation’s gold mines. “I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares”, Mr Eriksson told BBC’s investigative news programme “Panorama”. “They used my name”, he laments; there was even talk of him managing the North Korean football team.

Those who follow developments in North Korea tend to prefer casting Kim Jong Il as an evil genius—crazy like a fox—rather than as merely crazy. While there can be no doubting that he has it in him to run circles around America and China, the Dear Leader appears to be no match for a silver-tongued conman of Russell King’s stature.

The Guardian:

The Serious Fraud Office is looking into an elaborate scam that took in the former England football manager Sven Göran-Eriksson, former spymaster Sir John Walker and the North Korean government.

Investigators are also looking at how the same fraudster took control of almost half of a London investment bank without paying for the shares.

First London plc – the investment bank whose shares were listed on the Plus stock exchange and whose advisers included Tim Yeo MP and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former head of defence intelligence – subsequently went into administration with debts of £8.7m.

BBC Panorama has discovered that Russell King, a convicted fraudster, took control of 49% of First London by claiming he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family. The case has been referred to the SFO – which only looks at the country’s highest value frauds – by the Financial Services Authority.

An FSA spokesman said: “In this case the acquisition of control occurred without the FSA having been given the prior notice which the law requires it to be given. Had it been given proper notice it would have been in a position to consider whether it should use its powers to object to and prohibit the change of control. The FSA subsequently identified a number of concerns and pursued a series of leads into what was an extremely complex corporate structure. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time due to confidentiality issues.”

The Panorama programme will show how King then used the name of the bank and its high-profile advisers to give credibility to deals.

They included an attempt to obtain funding for a new company that claimed to have assets worth $2tn and the short-lived takeover of the Football League’s oldest club. In 2009, King was behind a controversial takeover of Notts County which promised to bring millions of pounds of investment from the Middle East. The investment, which appeared to have been guaranteed by First London, never materialised and the club was left £7m in the red – but not before Eriksson agreed to join County as director of football. Nottingham police are investigating.

The coach’s contract included a clause entitling him to €11m of shares in a little-known company called Swiss Commodity Holding, which had been set up a few months earlier and was claiming to have assets worth $2tn from the exclusive rights to North Korea’s gold, coal and iron ore.

King persuaded the former England manager to visit the rogue state as part of an SCH delegation and Eriksson was present at a meeting with the North Korean leadership. “I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares,” he tells the programme. “I asked them how much and what they told me was not millions, it was billions of dollars. They used my name. Of course they did. At the end it became a big, big mistake.”

Panorama’s investigation shows that King was secretly running SCH, which was considering a public listing.

Documents detailing SCH’s claims were prepared by First London plc. The investment bank also sent Walker, who sat on the bank’s advisory board, to check out King and his associates. The air marshal tells the programme: “What do I think of Russell King? Not a lot. He was good at chat, but that was his business. He was a con man. I was taken the same way Sven was taken. They just wanted names.”

King had gained control over First London plc shares after convincing the bank that he was managing billions of dollars of Bahraini cash by introducing some of its executives to senior members of the royal family. But Fawaz Al Khalifa, president of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, says King was lying about his royal connections: “He might have met members of the family here or there, but we have no financial connection to him or his company.”

King, who was jailed for insurance fraud in 1991, denies running Notts County, SCH or First London plc.

However, the programme has obtained dozens of emails and testimonies showing he was secretly pulling the strings, including some where he refers to himself as Lord Voldemort, the character from the Harry Potter books who can never be named.

First London plc’s parent company, First London Group plc, is still in business. In a statement, its lawyers said the failure to notify the FSA about the change in ownership was a mistake: “This was simply an error and not done for any ulterior or questionable motive. As far as our client is aware the FSA were satisfied that the information provided was in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements. Our client is unaware of any investigation by the FSA or SFO into its activities so far as they relate to or involve Russell King.”


The Serious Fraud Office is examining a con that took in Sven-Goran Eriksson and the North Korean government, BBC Panorama has learned.

Investigators are also looking at how the same conman stole a football club and broke a bank.

Convicted fraudster Russell King persuaded the former England manager to join Notts County FC as director of football and to visit North Korea.

Mr King denies any fraud and said he was just a consultant on the deals.

Mr Eriksson was appointed at Notts County in 2009 following a takeover that promised to bring millions of pounds of Middle Eastern investment.

“For me as a football man it was fantastic, building a club from the bottom of League Two and having the funding to do it, to be a Premier League club. It’s like a dream, so I signed. Big mistake,” he said of the deal.

Milk bill
The promised money never arrived and the club was left £7m in debt. Mr Eriksson says there were early signs that all was not as it seemed.

“I started to have doubts when they came and told me the milk bill has not been paid,” he said.

Mr King claimed his Swiss-based mining company had assets worth almost $2 trillion because it had the rights to North Korea’s gold, coal and iron ore.

He told Mr Eriksson the Notts County cash would come from that mining deal. He then persuaded him to join a delegation visiting Pyongyang.

“I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares,” Mr Eriksson told Panorama.

“I asked them how much that was and what they told me was not millions, it was billions of dollars. They used my name. Of course they did. At the end it became a big, big mistake.”

Russell King’s business deals had credibility because they appeared to have the backing of First London plc, an investment bank with advisers including Conservative MP Tim Yeo and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former British spymaster.

The bank sent Sir John, a former head of defence intelligence, to check out Mr King and the Korean deal, but he was also taken in.

Sir John said of the deal: “What do I think of Russell King? Not a lot. He was good at chat, but that was his business. He was a con man. I was taken the same way Sven was taken. They just wanted names.”

Mr King also managed to get control of almost half of First London plc without paying a penny for the shares, after he convinced its bankers he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family.

But Fawaz Al Khalifa, President of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, says that Mr King was lying about his royal connections: “He might have met members of the family here or there, but we have no financial connection to him or his company.”

First London PLC went into administration last year with debts of £8.7m and the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has been examining the deal that gave King control of 49% of its shares. The FSA has now passed its finding to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

“In this case the acquisition of control occurred without the FSA having been given the prior notice which the law requires it to be given,” said an FSA spokesman.

First London plc’s parent company, First London Group plc, is still in business. In a statement, its lawyers said the failure to notify the FSA about the change in ownership was a mistake that had been rectified:

“This was simply an error and not done for any ulterior or questionable motive. As far as our client is aware the FSA were satisfied that the information provided was in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements.

“Our client is unaware of any investigation by the FSA or SFO.”

Lord Voldemort
Mr King, who was jailed for insurance fraud in 1991, denies any involvement in the running of Notts County or First London plc.

But Panorama has obtained dozens of emails and numerous testimonies that show he was secretly pulling the strings at Notts County.

King even referred to himself as Lord Voldemort, the character from the Harry Potter books who can never be named.

The club had been owned by a supporters’ trust, but Mr King persuaded the fans to sell it for just £1 after they met one of his supposedly wealthy benefactors in Bahrain.

Abid Hyat Khan was introduced as a Middle Eastern prince, but Panorama has discovered he is actually on the run from British police.

He absconded from the UK in 2008, when he was due to stand trial for allegedly stealing almost £1m. Khan denies posing as a prince.

The BBC’s Panorama show can be found here.


DPRK-UK diplomatic numbers

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

According to

January 11, 2011

Lord Moonie (Labour)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many North Korean diplomats are stationed in London and how many British diplomats are in North Korea; and what representations they have made to those diplomats in London about concerns over recent cross-border incidents on the Korean peninsula.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
There are five diplomats from North Korea based in London. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office employs approximately 10 staff in Pyongyang. This includes UK-based civil servants and locally engaged staff. For operational and security reasons, we cannot provide a more detailed breakdown. Senior officials in the UK, and our ambassador to Pyongyang, expressed to the North Korean authorities grave concern about the recent cross-border incidents, and urged restraint.


“Bend It” shown [edited] on DPRK TV

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

According to the New York Times:

But on Sunday, The Associated Press reported, North Korean television audiences were given a rare break from this routine when the British comedy “Bend It Like Beckham” was shown there. The film, which stars Parminder Nagra as a young woman from a Sikh family with dreams of soccer stardom; Keira Knightley as her best friend; and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the dreamy coach they both have eyes on, was shown over the weekend by the arrangement of the British Embassy. According to the BBC, a message was shown during the film saying that the broadcast was done to mark the 10th anniversary of diplomatic ties between North Korea and Britain.

In a message on his Twitter account, Martin Uden, the British ambassador to South Korea, wrote: “Happy Christmas in Pyongyang. On 26/12 Bend it like Beckham was 1st ever western-made film to air on TV.” The A.P. said the North Korean broadcast of the two-hour movie was only an hour long, so please, no spoilers about the film’s subplots about religion and sexuality, or which of the women Mr. Rhys Meyer’s character ultimately chooses.

UPDATE from a Koryo Tours newsletter:

In 2004 Koryo Tours together with Ealing Studios and the British Embassy screened the film Bend it Like Beckham at the Pyongyang International Film Festival, it was seen by over 12,000 Pyongyang citizens and was the film they raved about…during the festival we were inudndated with requests for tickets from the Yanggakdo hotel staff. During the film the coach tells the heroine of the film to make a decision about her life…and this was translated as her following the Juche way!

In 2009 Koryo Tours was asked by the British Embassy in Pyongyang to assist with ideas for marking 10 years of diplomatic relations- and football was what we came up with. In October 2010 we took Middlesbrough Women’s football team to play two local Korean sides (to a total of 14,000 fans and nationwide tv broadcast) and on Boxing Day the film Bend It Like Beckham was broadcast in Pyongyang- and that is a massive ‘first’ with everyone in Pyongyang talking about it!

Our colleague Hannah Barraclough is working on bringing over the April 25th women’s team in 2012 to play in Europe. If you want any details or have any ideas on how to help with this project please let us know.

Here is a link to the ambassador’s Twitter feed.

To be honest, I am not sure about the claim that it is the first western-made film shown on DPRK TV. I know that the Bonner/Gordon film The Game of Their Lives was shown unedited on DPRK television, though it is about the DPRK and they were involved in the filming.  Tom & Jerry is on DPRK TV to this day, though it is not a film. Titanic was shown in DPRK cinemas.  Any other examples?

Read the full story here:
North Korea Gets a Special Kick Out of ‘Bend It Like Beckham’
New York Times
Dave Itzkoff


British bakeries a lifeline in North Korea

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Pictured Above: Love North Korean Children Bakery (Sonbong, DPRK)

Michael Rank writes in the Asia Times:

North Korea is a land of hunger and poverty but the children of Hahyeon primary school look reassuringly healthy, thanks to a small, British-based charity that runs three bakeries in this isolated and highly secretive country.

The children receive their midday meals courtesy of Love North Korean Children, [1] which bakes 2,500 mandu or steamed buns each day for pupils in 20 schools in and around the northeastern coastal city of Sonbong, near the Chinese border.

“If we did not provide these buns the children would go hungry,” said the charity’s founder and powerhouse, South Korean-born George Rhee.

Rhee works indefatigably to make sure that his bakeries have sufficient supplies of flour and other essential items, all of which have to be imported from China, something of a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare.

“All of our food gets to the children. None goes to the North Korean army or government,” said Rhee, and as he travels to North Korea from London up to 10 times a year, he is in a position to know.

Rhee, 52, told how he was inspired to found Love North Korean Children as a result of his own childhood experiences. He was one of eight children – he has six brothers and a sister – and when his father’s land reclamation business went bust, it left the family penniless. His parents were forced to put him and his twin brother in a children’s home.

The home was a cruel place and the children often went hungry, and it was this experience that made Rhee decide that he wanted to help the children of North Korea.

“At first I was thinking of opening an orphanage, but the government wouldn’t allow that. They say North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is our father, so there is no need for orphanages. So then I decided to open a bakery,” Rhee recalled.

Rhee first visited North Korea in 2002, and opened the charity’s first bakery the following year, in Rajin, close to Sonbong. I visited him there last month. He recently handed over responsibility for the Rajin bakery to a Korean-American group, but he also runs a bakery in Pyongyang, and this year opened a new bakery In Hyangsan, about 150 kilometers north of the capital.

He puts the cost of flour and equipment for the Sonbong and Pyongyang bakeries at about US$6,300 each per month, and for the Hyangsan bakery at almost double that, as it feeds twice as many children.

Rhee is a minister in the Assemblies of God Church and has its backing for his charity. Most of the costs are borne by three Dutch Christian foundations, the Barnabas Fund, Stichting Ora and Dorcas Aid International, but Rhee hopes to build more bakeries in North Korea and recently went on a fundraising trip to South Korea to talk to local companies and churches.

“There is a lot of interest in what we are doing. I am hopeful that we will be able to raise more money to open more bakeries,” he said.

Rhee said he hopes to open a fourth bakery in Haeju, the hometown of his late father, who escaped by boat to South Korea at the height of the Korean War in 1951.

“The North Korean government says we can. The only question is money,” he added.

Although the children at the Sonbong school looked healthy and well fed, they are among the lucky ones. Rhee said some of the children whom his bakeries feed are thin and pale, even with the extra food they receive from Love North Korean Children.

“I have even seen dead children in the streets. The situation for children in North Korea is terrible,” he stressed.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) bears this out. It says 33% of the population is undernourished and 23% of children under five are under-weight for their age.

“Public rations are reportedly far from sufficient and daily food consumption for most households is poor”, the WFP reports. Many people are forced to survive by cutting down on the number of meals per day, eating more wild foods – grass and bark in some cases – and less maize and rice, and reducing portion sizes for adults so that children can eat.

Although conditions have improved since the mid-1990s, when hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people died in a terrible famine, North Korea remains one of the world’s poorest countries.

Aid workers and diplomats say the government bears much of the blame, with an inflexible, highly centralized food-distribution system that results in a large proportion of the population going permanently hungry.

The WFP tactfully avoids blaming the government, referring to “a lack of arable land, poor soil management, insufficient water reservoirs to combat drought, shortages of fuel and fertilizer, outdated economic, transport and information infrastructure, and a general vulnerability to natural disasters”.

It quotes the Food and Agriculture Organization as saying North Korea needs to import 25% of its grain requirements, “but economic constraints mean the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will struggle to meet its food import needs.”

All this means that small organizations like Rhee’s do a valuable job in feeding people who would otherwise go hungry, although the paranoid, xenophobic nature of the regime makes their work extremely challenging.

Until recently, a number of South Korean charities were active in North Korea, but the Seoul government ordered them out after the sinking of the naval ship the Cheonan in March in which 46 South Korean sailors died.

The South Korean government blamed North Korea for the sinking, and relations between the two countries, cool at best, went into the deep freeze.

Surprisingly perhaps, Rhee strongly supports the Seoul administration’s tough line, as he believes most of the South Korean charities were naive and were unable, or unwilling, to prevent the North Korean government from diverting much of the food they provided to the million-strong army.

“I support President Lee Myung-bak in this,” Rhee said. “These South Korean organizations were foolish” in not monitoring where food and other supplies were going.

Love North Korean Children was not affected by the ban, however, as it is a British-registered charity and Rhee, who has lived in the UK for 20 years, is a British citizen.

“The North Koreans cooperate well with us. It isn’t easy but we help to make sure that people get fed,” he said.

I had unexpected proof that the North Koreans appreciate Rhee’s efforts. During my visit to North Korea, officials constantly complained to me about photographs I was taking and at one point deleted some pictures on my camera.

I was concerned that they would delete more photographs when I left the country, as frequently happens.

I need not have worried, however. The customs officer who checked my camera at the North Korean-Chinese border was well disposed towards us, as his children were fed by Love North Korean Children. He took just a quick look at my photographs and waved us through.

You can see the author’s photos from Rason here.

Read the full story here:
British bakeries a lifeline in North Korea
Asia Times
Michael Rank


UK names new ambassador to Pyongyang

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

Britain has named a female career diplomat as its next ambassador to North Korea, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Tuesday.

The office said Karen Wolstenholme has been appointed as its envoy to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is the official name of the communist country. She is to succeed London’s current ambassador to Pyongyang Peter Hughes in September 2011.

Wolstenholme joined the foreign office in 1980 and was previously posted to Moscow, Brussels and Wellington.

She headed various regional teams from 2003 before being named First Secretary, Deputy UK Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons based in the Hague in 2007.

I wish Mr. Hughes all the best in the future.

Read the full story here:
Britain taps woman as next ambassador to N. Korea


DPRK defectors leaving ROK

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

An increasing number of North Korean defectors have been attempting to seek asylum in foreign countries, hiding their newly-won South Korean nationality and pretending to be fresh from the communist nation, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

Britain and Norway have been among the popular targets for these fake asylum seekers, Rep. Hong Jung-wook of the Grand National Party said, citing data from the foreign ministry. Hong said the government should make sure the issue does not escalate into diplomatic problems.

Apparently over concerns about fake defections, Britain has stopped granting asylum to North Korean defectors since last year. In 2008, Norway found more than 50 North Korean defectors with South Korean passports or identity cards during an inspection of a refugee camp, according to the lawmaker.

Since 2004, a total of 695 North Korean defectors have formally filed for asylum in Britain, with the number of applications rising from 20 in 2004 to 410 in 2007. Of those applicants, 373 were granted the asylum, 185 were denied and 135 under consideration as of March of last year, according to the lawmaker.

But the British government estimates that the actual number of North Korean defectors who had come to the country for asylum purposes since 2004 would be about 1,000 and suspects that 70 percent of them would be of South Korean nationality, the lawmaker said in a release.

Britain reached the estimate after a survey of three dozen North Korean asylum seekers, who agreed to provide their fingerprints for the investigation, found that 75 percent, or 24 people, were found to be of South Korean nationality, the lawmaker said.

“Based on this problem, the British side has been asking that our government provide it with broader information on the fingerprints of North Korean defectors, and even demanding a treaty be signed on this,” the lawmaker said in the release.

Hong also said that about 600 fake asylum seekers are believed to be still staying in Britain or Norway, and called on the government to take steps to bring them home.

“The increase in fake asylum attempts by North Korean defectors is because their life in South Korea is difficult,” Hong said. “The government should allow them to return by granting a grace period so as to prevent the issue from growing into a diplomatic problem.”

The foreign ministry denied that Britain had asked South Korea to take back the fake asylum seekers or demanded a treaty on fingerprint information.

“As this issue is related to our nationals, we have been cooperating with related countries within the necessary bounds and are in talks with related countries to work out appropriate measures,” the ministry said in a statement.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War, nearly 20,000 North Koreans have defected to the South to escape from hunger and political suppression in their communist homeland. But many of them have a hard time getting decent jobs due to their lack of education and social discrimination.

Read the full story here:
Increasing number of N. Korean defectors in S. Korea seek asylum in foreign countries
Chang Jae-soon


Middlesbrough vs. DPRK Ladies

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Pictured above: April 25th Sports Club field in Sadong-guyok (사동구역) where the matches were held (Google Maps)

UPDATE 4 (2011-4-25): To mark the ten-year anniversary of DPRK-UK diplomatic relations in September 2010, the British Embassy in Pyongyang and Koryo Tours arranged for the Middlesbrough Ladies Football Club to travel to the DPRK for two friendly matches against the DPRK’s national ladies team.  In addition to the two matches, the ladies team spent an afternoon training children at a local school, and an edited version of the film Bend it like Beckham was shown on North Korean television.  If you can access Facebook, you can see pictures of the visit here and  some videos here.

I managed to get video of one of the matches that was aired on North Korean television, so I edited it and posted it to YouTube:

It is in severn parts.  Part 1 of 7 is here.  The resolution is not great, but I am not a professional video editor!

Koryo Tours now has the ambitious goal of bringing a DPRK women’s football team to Middlesbrough.  According to a recent Koryo Tours newsletter:

We are therefore looking to take a North Korean women’s football team to the UK in 2012.  We also plan to bring a female DPRK film crew to accompany the squad and make a documentary of their time in the UK for both North Korean and international screening.

We do have support from both the British Embassy in Pyongyang and various international institutions but we also need financial support.  It would be extremely useful to have introductions to companies or individuals who you think might be interested in helping us.

Contact Koryo Tours for more information.

UPDATE 3: Sky News has a good summary of the events and a video.

UPDATE 2: According to the BBC, the Middlesbrough FC Ladies lost their second game.

UPDATE 1: According to the AFP, the Middlesbrough FC Ladies lost their first game.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Guardian:

North Korea, the most secretive country on earth, the nation George Bush located on the Axis of Evil, where the flame of Marxism-Leninism still burns strong, will this week welcome its first British football team: 14 Teesside women players aged from 17 to 23, and their manager, Marrie Wieczorek.

On Thursday, Middlesbrough FC Ladies set off on a football tour with less bar-hopping (it’s illegal to leave your hotel without your guide) and probably more talk about dialectical materialism than usual. “I think it is going to be a bit of a culture shock,” says Wieczorek. “The whole place is shrouded in secrecy.”

At a time of mounting speculation that Kim Jong-il may be stepping down and appointing his son as successor, the team will fly to Beijing and then board an Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang, where they will play two games.

Middlesbrough Ladies will, in their way, be making history. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (as it prefers to be known) has so little contact with the outside world that the tour represents one of the most significant cultural exchanges of recent years. But it is also the latest episode in the entirely unlikely relationship between Middlesbrough and North Korea.

Historical link

Back in 1966, when England hosted the World Cup, North Korea played its three group games in the town, and Dave Allan, Middlesbrough’s media manager, said that a bond had existed ever since.

“It wasn’t that long after the Korean War and there were people in Teesside who’d fought in that, and when the Korean team came they were seen as the enemy,” Allan said. “But people really just took them to their hearts. It helped that they played in red, which was the Middlesbrough team colour. But it really was the people themselves, non-stop smiling, and very friendly and open.”

In 1966, North Korea beat Italy in what is routinely referred to as “one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history”, but the team’s failure to win a single game in this year’s finals – the first time they had qualified since then – led to rumours that the national coach had been sent to be “re-educated” on a building site on his return home.

In 2002, Nick Bonner of the travel company Koryo Tours tracked down the 1966 players and brought them back to Middlesbrough in what is still North Korea’s most important non-political exchange with the outside world.

“You don’t hear much about Middlesbrough in this country. But in North Korea they love us,” said Wieczorek. Even more astonishing, she said, they also love women’s football. The North Korean women’s team is currently fifth in the world, and it is as popular a spectator sport as the men’s game.

“Here, on the other hand, it was a battle to even play it when I started out 34 years ago,” said Wieczorek, “and although we’re supported by Middlesbrough FC we still have to raise our own money for transport.”

Culture shock

In North Korea, visitors are expected to bow before statues of the Supreme Leader. Do the Middlesbrough team have any idea what to expect?

Acting captain Rachael Hine, a mortgage adviser with Santander, said: “We know it’s going to be different. But nobody really knows how different.

“We’re just trying to go there with an open mind.”

This was a philosophy that has already been tested. “I told the girls their mobile phones will be confiscated at the airport,” said Wieczorek. “Their jaws just dropped.”

Read the full story here:
Middlesbrough Ladies’ North Korean football tour guarantees place in history
Carole Cadwalladr


Aminex to begin oil exploration in the DPRK

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

UPDATE 2: According to Yonhap:

North Korea has inked a 10-year contract with British oil and gas company Aminex to explore and extract oil on the seabed off the country’s east coast, the Financial Times (FT) in London reported on June 1.

For the deal, North Korea presented Singapore-registered Chosun Energy as its representative to establish a 50-50 joint venture, Korex, with Aminex, the FT said, noting a filing with Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Chosun Energy is an investment holding company operated by North Korea with a paid-up capital of US$1.2 million, according to the newspaper. But the newspaper did not elaborate further details on the company.

Korex will search for oil in an area of 50,681 square kilometers (20,272 square miles) in parts of North Korea’s east coast, Aminex said in a statement.

The contract with the British company, which is listed in London and Dublin, was signed around mid-May in London by officials from the North’s oil company and a head official for Aminex.

“Officials from North Korea’s state oil company traveled to London two weeks ago to conclude the 10-year contract. Lord Alton, chairman of Britain’s parliamentary North Korea group, says he showed the officials around parliament,” the FT added.

North Korea has contacted foreign companies and investors to attract foreign capital for searching for its rich natural resources, including crude oil. In 1997, the North claimed it had reserves of 5 to 40 billion barrels of oil.

North Korea has maintained ties with Animex since 1998. Aminex has been hunting for potential oil reserves in the North Korean portion of the Yellow sea since it signed with the country for joint oil and gas development in January 2005.

UPDATE 1: According to the AFP:

The head of a London-based energy firm that signed a deal to search for oil off North Korea said on Thursday he hoped to start exploring in a year but was closely monitoring tensions on the peninsula.

Aminex PLC executive chairman Brian Hall told AFP he expected “field work in about a year” off the communist nation’s east coast and aimed to “find substantial reserves”.

However, relations on the peninsula have become strained after North Korea was accused of carrying out a torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in March that left 46 sailors dead and stoked fears of an armed conflict.

Pyongyang has denied involvement in the sinking and threatened war in response to a trade suspension and other reprisals by the South.

Asked about the timing of the North Korea contract, Hall said “we have been working with (the) North Koreans for over a decade and an agreement such as the one we have recently signed takes many months to negotiate”.

He added: “Naturally we will keep a very close eye on the tensions on the peninsula, as we have done during previous incidents, but our project is of a long-term nature and well thought through.”

Aminex announced last week that an associate company had signed a 10-year contract with North Korea to search for oil in an area of about 50,681 square kilometres (20,272 square miles) in the Korean East Sea.

Hall declined to give an estimate of the potential deposits.

The contract was signed by Korex — a 50-50 venture between Aminex and Singapore-registered Chosun Energy — and the Korean Oil Exploration Company, the North’s state oil firm.

Victor Shum, an analyst with energy consultancy Purvin and Gertz, said there was every chance that oil would be found in the area but stressed the reserves must be of a significant size in order for exploration to progress further.

“The question is whether any oil reserves that may be discovered there are going to be economically viable to extract,” Singapore-based Shum told AFP.

“I think there has been interest certainly by oil companies so there is therefore a possibility of something there … So far the production isn’t large,” he said.

Aminex, with listings on the London and Irish stock exchanges, describes itself as an upstream oil and gas company with concessions in several countries including the United States, Kenya and Egypt.

According to a filing with Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority obtained by AFP, Aminex’s partner Chosun Energy is an investment holding company with a paid-up capital of 1.2 million dollars.

It listed its address as the German Centre in Singapore, a building that hosts small and medium-sized foreign companies, and named three directors — an American, one Briton and a Singaporean.

But staff at the German Centre told AFP the company had moved out.

Singapore is a major financial centre and corporate hub, attracting companies from all over the world because of the ease of doing business and access to funding.

North Korea, one of the world’s most impoverished countries, is starved of energy and foreign exchange after decades of isolation as well as economic sanctions, but is believed by US officials to have up to six nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s ban on most trade with North Korea in response to the ship sinking will cost the communist state hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to figures from the Seoul-based Korea Development Institute.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Financial Times:

Aminex, listed in London and Dublin, has formed a company, Korex, to pursue the project jointly with Chosun Energy, a Singapore-listed company that identifies James Passin as one of its directors, according to a filing with Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Mr Passin is a New York-based fund manager. His Firebird Global Master Fund II half owns Chosun Energy and targets resource deals in frontier markets.

Officials from North Korea’s state oil company travelled to London two weeks ago to conclude the 10-year contract. Lord Alton, chairman of Britain’s parliamentary North Korea group, says he showed the officials around parliament.

Brian Hall, chairman of Aminex, acknowledged the contract had been concluded at a sensitive time given the rising tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang, but stressed he had opened ties with energy-starved North Korea in 1998. Since then, securing output rights from an exploration block had been “stop-go”.

Additional Information/thoughts: 
1. Here is a previous short post on Aminex.

2. The economics literature overwhelmingly suggests that natural resource windfalls are generally bad news for weak states/developing countries—often fueling corruption, repression, and violence.  The windfall almost never translates into better general working conditions or increases in general income (Botswana being an exception).  There are plenty of papers out there making this point (“Natural Resource Curse”), so feel free to refer to your favorite.

3. I would be weary of building an offshore oil rig in the DPRK.

4.  If oil is discovered in Korea’s East Sea, look for Japan, South Korea, and Russia to begin “drinking from their milkshake”.

Read the full stories here:
Oil firm says N.Korea exploration to start in a year
Bernice Han

Anglo-Irish group seeks North Korean oil
Financial Times
Christian Oliver, Kevin Brown


British Council offers work in DPRK

Monday, May 17th, 2010

According to the Guardian Jobs web page:

Exciting opportunities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)

Posted: 06 May 2010
Reference: OA10002
Location: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
Industry:  Charities – International, Education – TEFL, General – General
Hours: Full Time
Salary: £26,880 – £30,624

Exciting opportunities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)

In-country Project Leader – £30,624

English Curriculum/Materials Developer/Trainer – £26,880

English Trainer – £26,880

Contract from August 2010 to August 2011 (with the possibility of extension to March 2012)

Benefits including free accommodation, pension provision, medical insurance and mid-contract flights to Beijing and the UK

The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. Our purpose is to build mutually beneficial relationships between people in the UK and other countries and increase appreciation for the UK’s creative ideas and achievements. We operate in 110 countries and territories worldwide.

The British Council/Foreign and Commonwealth Office English language project in the DPRK aims to deliver quality programmes in teacher/trainer training and to develop the curriculum and related materials as well as assessment systems at three leading institutions in Pyongyang. This high-profile project has been running since 2000, and we are now seeking three experienced English language teaching professionals to fill the above posts, which will be based at these institutions.

For all posts you will have: a diploma level qualification in TEFL (eg UCLES DTEFLA/Cambridge ESOL DELTA, Trinity College London Dip TESOL); a minimum of 3 years’ ELT and teacher training experience overseas; and experience of curriculum planning; and of materials development. It is desirable that you have experience of working in a ‘hardship’ environment.


English Trainer: will have experience of developing English assessments.

English Curriculum/Materials Developer/Trainer: it is desirable that you have experience of constructing English tests and of running CELTA/Trinity Certificate type courses.

In-country Project Leader post: will have experience of testing. It is desirable that you have an MA in Applied Linguistics (or equivalent); people and project management; teaching British Studies; English for specific purposes (ESP); and content and language integrated learning (CLIL).

Note: local restrictions mean that UK passport holders only can be considered for this post. This is an unaccompanied post, although in exceptional cases the DPRK authorities might agree to an accompanying spouse. Employment is subject to permission from the DPRK Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs.

Closing date for applications: 12 noon, Monday 24 May 2010. Applications should be returned by e-mail.

For more information and an application pack, please visit: or e-mail (quoting OA10002): [email protected].


DPRK emigration data

Monday, March 1st, 2010

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


Click image for larger version.