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Orascom: How do you solve a problem like Korea?

Naguib Sawiris has built large parts of his empire by being prepared to do business where other companies would fear to tread. He explains how he became a telecoms operator, banker and even an hotelier in the biggest rogue state of all, North Korea.

Not so lonely: Jang Song Thaek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, Naguib Sawiris and Kim Jong Il

Not so lonely: Jang Song Thaek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, Naguib Sawiris and Kim Jong Il

"We looked at a map of the world and there were only three countries that did not have cellular service – Cuba, Burma and North Korea," explains Sawiris.

"So I went to Cuba first and I couldn’t believe they were still believing in communism, so the trip was a failure. Then I went to Burma and met the minister of telecom, a general, and he told me to come back in three years. The three years elapsed and nothing happened.

"Someone told us he knew the North Korean ambassador in Geneva. So we went there and met him. A very nice man, and he said it will take time but it could happen, and we could start by doing this and that, and you have to visit and so on...

"So we went in 2008 and then suddenly the idea got momentum, they started to like the idea and we accepted some of the ideas they had.

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