In a world where countries often have complicated relationships with North Korea, Sweden’s single complaint against the country’s regime is somewhat unexpected: a debt that has been unpaid for over 49 years and continues to grow with interest.
North Korea placed an order for 1,000 Volvo 144 models and other mechanical equipment worth $73 million with Swedish companies back in 1974. However, North Korea never paid for the order, and since it has remained unpaid for the past 5 decades, the total has increased to approximately $330 million.
According to Newsweek, North Korea began importing equipment from Western industrialised countries to expand its access to foreign capital and technology. The country promised to pay its creditors either with future production or mining products, but it soon became clear the regime had no intention of honouring its debts.
The internet keeps bringing up the story of North Korea’s unpaid debt for Volvo cars, along with images of the cars, sparking people’s interest in this strange transaction.
Here is a tweet from the Swedish Embassy that was posted in 2016: “Still going strong. One of the Volvo’s from 1974 is still unpaid for by DPRK. Run as a taxi in Chongjin.”
Still going strong. One of the Volvo’s from yr 1974 still unpaid for by DPRK. Running as taxi in Chongjin w almost half million km on odo! pic.twitter.com/2FaMpnPow7
— Sweden in Pyongyang (@SwedenDPRK) October 21, 2016
North Korea still uses these cars, and most of the time for special purposes. According to a report by NPR, US journalist Urban Lehner rode in a speeding Volvo 144 sedan during his two-week trip to North Korea in 1989. He recalls that visiting journalists usually rode in these cars and that the roads were so empty that drivers could often have the road to themselves.
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