Those whose job it is to take an interest in North Korea tend to go through phases, when it comes to their opinion of The World’s Only Remaining Stalinist State™. The first is ‘Damn, these bastards are crazy’; this is followed by the realisation that Kim Jong-il is an ‘evil genius’, a sort of cartoon Bond villain, crazy like a fox rather than just plain crazy. A more nuanced view may come later.
While Kim’s ability to play China and the US off against each other whilst poking sticks at Lee Myung-bak remains in little doubt, a recent scandal involving an international fraudster and a former England football manager must surely put a small dent in his crafty-as-a-bag-of-weasels reputation.
Russell King, a rather rotund convicted fraudster, first introduced himself to an old-school London investment firm as a manager of the Bahraini royal family’s billions; so impressed they were that they gave him a 49% share of their company. He then used that firm to engineer a takeover of Notts County, a small Midlands football club. Following that, he hooked former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson – a man famed for bouncing from mega-club to national team to sex scandal – to take County to glory.
His aim though was not Premier League success. He and Eriksson showed up in Pyongyang, the latter’s presence no doubt accounted for by the need to impress the North Korean authorities. There, he managed to get whoever makes the decisions on these things to grant him the right to mine all of the country’s gold, in return for promises of worthless shares and cash that no doubt never existed.
The scheme has since unravelled, and King is at large in Bahrain. But North Korea undoubtedly offers great opportunities for the brave scammer: it is a country with little experience of capitalism, and limited access to deals with any large international firm that cares about its reputation – with the possible exception of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-06/kim-jong-il-bowls-for-murdoch-dollars-with-video-games-made-in-north-korea.html ). There are others (who I will not name) who are using their North Korean connections to rip off foreign investors – if your money seems to have disappeared down a hole in the ground in Pyeongan province, who are you going to complain to?3 comments