Mrunal Manmay Dash

Many may find it hard to believe, but the secretive State of North Korea was once among the economically stronger countries. Yes, flush with Soviet cash and a booming mining industry, the country did fare quite well in terms of the economic growth.

The year was 1974 and a steady supply of aid plus a growing industrial economy convinced several Sweden-based exporters to invest in North Korea. Upon inquiry, the Swedish government agreed to send over $70 million in heavy machinery to the secretive state, along with that a batch of 1,000 Volvo 144 sedans to be used as taxis.

However, as many may agree now, the DPRK never actually paid for all those Volvos. As per the Swedish Export Credit Agency, the interest and penalties on the amount due for the cars has grown to a staggering $322 million over the last 40-odd years, which is approximately Rs 22,000 crore.

The vast streets of Pyongyang are currently plied by a good mix of vintage Soviet and European cars, imported luxury automobiles, and locally made copycats despite the country's fallen economy and harsh international sanctions.

According to NPR, a batch of 1973 Volvo 144s, survivors from the fleet of 1,000 vehicles that the North Koreans purchased from Sweden in the middle of the 1970s, is among them.

Although it is well-established that the amount has crossed a certain limit, and the chance of getting the payment is close to zero, the Swedish authorities still send bills to North Korea twice every year.

Some reports claim that the debt was never meant to be paid in cash, but instead in items like coal, minerals, copper-zinc, gold, etc.