North Korea Still Owes Volvo For One Thousand Cars It Stole

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North Korea Still Owes Volvo For One Thousand Cars It Stole
North Korea Still Owes Volvo For One Thousand Cars It Stole

For almost 50 years, the communist government of North Korea has ignored its outstanding debt for 1,000 Volvo 144 sedans. It’s a strange tale of political intrigue mixed with the kinds of tactics one would expect from someone with a credit score of under 500.

Check out Chris Pratt’s humble car collection.

Why Volvo ever shipped so many cars to a country that believes the government should own all property and expect payment afterwards might seem silly now, but at the time many thought it was a sly gambit. But the move cost the automaker dearly and it’s doubtful they’ll ever see a penny.


Back in the 1970s the Swedish economy was riding high just as the socialist movement really gained momentum. Thanks to political pressure applied by socialist politicians in the Scandinavian country, Swedish companies like Volvo started trading in good faith. The hope was North Korea would allow the Swedes to tap into the burgeoning mining industry on the north end of the Asian peninsula.

However, the powers in Pyongyang are notoriously deceptive and manipulative. Rather than warm to the idea of trading with capitalist pigs, the communists took the goods sent to their country by such gullible people and thumbed their nose at the concept of paying for anything.

In other words, North Korea and your worthless uncle who sleeps all day while dodging the repo man have a lot in common.

Just like that, the courtship between Sweden and North Korea fractured.

Visitors to North Korea have documented how the fleet of Volvo 144s are still running around Pyongyang. It’s somewhat like the classic cars still going strong in Cuba, another famously insular communist regime.

Every year, the Swedish Export Credits Guarantee Board recalculates the total debt owed by North Korea, adding a healthy amount of interest on top of the original order from the 1970s. Even more bizarre, it’s not the only Swedish company owed big money by the communist government, and all those debts keep accruing interest as well. At last calculation, the amount of debt had punched above $300 million USD and likely will keep going.

By a strange twist of modern globalization of trade, Volvo Cars is now owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding, a Chinese auto company that’s a privately-held entity in an authoritarian communist regime. One could argue that in a roundabout way at this point North Korea is stiffing the Chinese. What strange times we live in.