Invest in North Korea?!

Yes, says the man in the bowtie:

Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) — A U.K. businessman is seeking to raise $50 million to invest in North Korea, reviving a 2005 plan after the U.S. government removed the communist regime from its list of countries that support terrorism.

ChosunFund Pte. Ltd. will join with North Korean partners for mining and energy projects, Colin McAskill, founder of the Singapore-incorporated fund, said in an interview.

“The country holds huge natural resources but is capital starved and lacks the technology and management skills with which to develop them,” McAskill said.

McAskill, 69, said he has been consulting on potential North Korean projects since 1987. While the country attracts one-off investment deals such as a recent contract licensing Orascom Telecom Holding SAE to provide wireless telephone services, it has struggled to raise money from global financial markets since defaulting on overseas debt in the 1970s.

London-based emerging markets money manager Fabien Pictet & Partners Ltd. was considering a fund that would invest in South Korean companies that do business with the North. The idea is “on hold for the time being,” Jonathan Neill, managing director, said in an e-mail.

I understand that the terror designation was a technical barrier for to much economic aid in addition to banning most financial institutions from doing business with NK. And I know saying investing in North Korea is a bad idea is like shooting fish in a barrel.

But the US political decision to remove NK from the list doesn’t strike me as any real vote of confidence in the country, since North Korea appears to remain the dictionary definition of a state-run criminal enterprise, even if it hasn’t strictly engaged in “terrorism” the 80s. Nor is this is any real sign that the situation in North Korea is at all stable.  The ailing health of Kim Jong Il also plays a decisively destabilizing role. We could easily see a succession battle worthy of imperial Rome when he finally dies.

Still, you have to give the man credit for sticking with the idea for more than 20 years. There is always the chance that NK will stabilize somehow, so getting in on the ground floor would then be seen as a smart move. There could also be a rationale for investing in SK companies who take on NK projects with the backing of the South Korean government, or with some other guarantee to offset losses.

5 thoughts on “Invest in North Korea?!”

  1. I was thinking he’s more of a slightly evil version of Dennis Kucinich. I mean who wants to invest in NK? I don’t think I could live with myself making money off the back of such brutality and suffering.

  2. “North Korea appears to remain the dictionary definition of a state-run criminal enterprise”

    Dictionary definition? I don’t think that’s even a term that people use.

  3. “Making money off the back of brutality and suffering” is an age-old issue, but personally, I don’t see how NK will get out of its current hole unless some sort of beneficial foreign commerce begins. So the morality of colluding with the government to do business there is a wash to me.

    It’s still hellaciously risky, though, and in these times I don’t know what sort of institutions are capable of weathering that sort of political risk in their portfolios. The big money is probably only going to come when Pyongyang cleans up its act and proves that it can be somewhat reliable in protecting businesspeople.

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