US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s meeting in Singapore on June 12 has paved the way for talks to denuclearize North Korea. Markets are eagerly hoping that the next step would be the opening up of North Korean market for foreign investment.
If such a move ever materializes, one Arab billionaire stands to profit immensely.
Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE (OTMT) entered North Korea in 2009 to help build the country’s first communication network.
OTMT’s Korean subsidiary was called Koryolink and according to sources the company has invested about $34 million in today’s exchange rate but over $110 million considering 2009 exchange rate . This would make Sawiris the largest foreign investor in North Korea
But the venture has not been smooth sailing for them. Sawiris lost exclusive telecom rights when the North Korean government decided to start their own telecom company Byol in 2015.
OTMT’s 2017 annual report stated that the Koryolink owed it over $15 million in profits. The company considers this amount as a bad debt as it cannot transfer it due to restrictions placed by the North Korean Government on funds repatriation.
The company has also said that it does not have full control on its Korean investment, but only exercise significant influence over its investment. OTMT has also revealed that it was not able to further develop or maintain the business in the country due to international sanctions.
If the talks between Trump and Kim Jong Un could result on sanctions being lifted from North Korea, Sawiris’s investment could pay off. He will have multiple options including selling his business for a neat sum or to invest more to develop North Korea’s nascent telecoms sector that could grow rapidly if sanctions are lifted.
With a net worth of $4.2 billion, Sawiris ranks 550 in Forbes’ Billionaires list this year. He was ranked at the sixth position in Africa’s billionaires 2018.