Egyptian billionaire, Sawiris, sets sights on ventures in North Korea

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Egyptian billionaire businessman, Naguib Sawiris, said on Tuesday he sees opportunities for mining, telecoms and hotels in North Korea if a summit between its leader Kim Jong Un and United States (US) President Donald Trump later in February is successful.

Trump said last week he would hold his second meeting with Kim in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on 27 and 28 February after an unprecedented first meeting between the leaders in Singapore last June.

Sawiris, whose telecoms business operates the Koryolink mobile phone network in North Korea in a joint venture, said the impoverished country needed investments across the board from hotels to roads to modern methods of agriculture.

“It’s just a country full of opportunities if it opens up. I am looking forward in other areas such as mining,tourism, agriculture, agro-industries. But mining is amazing -they have so many resources and they don’t have the money to spend on exploration,” says Sawiris.

A State Department spokesman said last week that topics for the summit include complete denuclearization, transformation of US-North Korea relations and building a lasting peace mechanism on the Korean Peninsula.

“I am very upbeat on the (Trump) meeting because I think we might really achieve peace in that meeting. I think the North Koreans – all that they want – is recognition, respect, dialogue and they are getting it now,” says Sawiris.

He said mobile phone penetration in North Korea was around15% of the population or some three million people and market growth was limited because of expensive handsets that needed to be paid for in foreign currency.

Orascom Investment Holdings said in September it had been granted an exemption from the United Nations to operate Koryolink, its joint venture with North Korea’s Post and Telecommunication Company.

This came after the United Nations (UN) Security Council tightened sanctions making it illegal for foreign companies to form commercial joint ventures with North Korean entities.