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Huawei ‘built North Korea’s only network’, says Washington Post

Huawei MWC 2019.jpg

The Washington Post has uncovered documents that it says show how Huawei helped North Korean operator Koryolink build its mobile phone network.

Koryolink was originally a joint venture between Egyptian company Orascom Telecom and Media Technology (OTMT) and the North Korean government. However the unit was not absorbed into VimpelCom – now Veon – when it bought OTMT from Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris and now is 75% owned by Sawiris’s separately held Orascom Investment Holding. 

The Washington Post, in a collaborative investigation with 38 North, a website that says it is “devoted to informed analysis of North Korea”, claims Huawei worked through a Chinese state-owned firm, Panda International Information Technology, on the long-running project.

The Washington Post has posted relevant documents on its own website and on GitHub, including contracts and work schedules. The newspaper, owned by Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, says the information comes from “a former Huawei employee who considered the information to be of public interest”, and it says it has “two additional sets of documents [that] were shared by others with a desire to see the material made public”.

The Washington Post says: “Taken together, the revelations raise questions about whether Huawei, which has used American technology in its components, violated US export controls to furnish equipment to North Korea”, which has long been subject to sanctions.

Huawei told the newspaper it “has no business presence” in North Korea, though it declined to say “whether Huawei had conducted business there in the past, either directly or indirectly”.

Huawei told Capacity that it has no business presence there and added: “Huawei is fully committed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate, including all export control and sanction laws and regulations of the UN, US and EU.” 

According to the Washington Post the relationship dates back to a visit to Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen in 2006 by Kim Jong Il, the father of current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – who recently met US president Donald Trump on the border between North and South Korea.

According to the GSMA, Koryolink is the only mobile operator in North Korea, now run by CHEO Technology JV Company. It started 3G on 2100MHz services on 1 December 2008, but there are no coverage maps.