North Korea Owes Sweden $428M For 1,000 Volvos Swindled In 1974

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon

Forty years ago, the North Koreans and the Swedes entered into an agreement where the latter’s socialist and industrialist interests aimed to bring recognition to the former’s regime while filling its pockets from the country’s mining industry. Part of this agreement included 1,000 Volvo 144 GLs, which were meant to be paid in copper and zinc.

But that was 40 years ago.

Newsweek reports North Korea, under Kim Il-sung’s regime, ultimately absconded with the Volvos and other Swedish goods during a Swedish-Korean trade fair in Pyongyang, all within the same year the vehicles were delivered.

Since then, the Swedish Export Credits Guarantee Board has calculated the interest owed on the debt linked to those goods. Total debt after inflation plus interest holds at kr3 billion ($428 million USD).

As for the Volvos, they were ordered for taxi service within the North Korean capital. As of 2008, those cars were not only still running, but, according to photographer and entrepreneur Tor Rauden Källstigen, were treated well:

I think I’ve never been inside such an old car even back home in Sweden. This taxi was very well maintained too, close to mint condition it seemed.

Were Il-sung’s grandson and current ruler, Kim Jong-un, to sell the vehicles at current book value, he would net $2.6 million — or 0.6 percent of the debt — for the trouble.

Cameron Aubernon
Cameron Aubernon

Seattle-based writer, blogger, and photographer for many a publication. Born in Louisville. Raised in Kansas. Where I lay my head is home.

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11 of 18 comments
  • CJinSD CJinSD on Sep 02, 2014

    Socialists trusting socialists: win-win!

    • See 1 previous
    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Sep 02, 2014

      @Eyeflyistheeye No, no, we've moved on its Ebola vs Cancer now.

  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Sep 02, 2014

    Describing Sweden as "socialist" just shows that you don't know what the word means. Left of the U.S.? Of course. Higher taxes, more government programs, and a more assertive regulatory system? Of course. But industry remains steadfastly private (and by many measures it is easier to start a business in Sweden than the U.S.).

    • See 3 previous
    • Pch101 Pch101 on Sep 02, 2014

      @CJinSD "Did you read the article?" You missed the part about the Swedish industrialists who thought at the time that North Korea represented a great business opportunity.

  • Sector 5 Sector 5 on Sep 02, 2014

    1974 wasn't a good year for the West. A presidential crisis. Shows how boring Sweden is if this is all that can be conjured from the last 40 years. A bad business deal. Seek better partners instead of profiteering from animosity. Must have been an end run of 144's? Wasn't that close to 244 time?

    • Glwillia Glwillia on Sep 02, 2014

      Don't worry, the Swedish government's policy of importing all the world's conflict zones will guarantee some more interesting headlines over the next 40 years...

  • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Sep 02, 2014

    Rather reminds me of a deal my former employer made with Chrysler several years ago. Made a deal to send a tankwagon of OEM clearcoat to one of their assembly plants with the stipulation that if Chrysler liked it they'd pay for it; if they didn't like the coating performance it was free. Coated a couple thousand or so vehicles with it very successfully. Of course, as the last car was drying, Chrysler informed the company that they didn't like the coating.....