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.
It is a story that is just as strange as it sounds – and, in 2014, it shows how North Korea’s grand aspirations and increasingly bellicose rhetoric may founder on a chronic inability to assess its own financial ability.
Judging by emerging tourist footage and rogue documentaries, it may also be an unexpected testament to the durability of Swedish engineering. To say that incumbent Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has carried on papa Jong-il’s legacy of insularity and geopolitical horseplay would be an understatement: the 31-year-old has been at the helm for less than three years, but he has already galvanised international media with “preemptive” nuclear strike plans, the surprise execution of his own uncle, and a burgeoning bromance with former NBA star Dennis Rodman.
With these incidents already on record, few things should surprise the outside world – but in July, the North Korean administration once again drew gasps from human rights organisations when it announced that its severely impoverished population would soon witness the construction of a grand national project: a new “tourist city” in Wonsan, complete with an underwater hotel and villa district.
North Korea Owes Sweden €300m for 1,000 Volvos It Stole 40 Years Ago - And Is Still Using