Not coming back: Sweden still waiting for payment of 1,000 Volvo Sedans shipped to North Korea in 1974
Boxy but they're good: Sweden still waiting for payment for 1,000 Volvo Sedans shipped to North Korea in 1974 Getty

North Korea owes auto giant Volvo an astronomical £238m for a fleet of old cars shipped from Sweden to the international pariah more than 40 years ago.

The huge bill is owed by Kim Jung-un's regime for 1,000 of the Volvos which the podgy dictator's grandfather Kim Il-sung ordered back in 1974.

Sweden's 40 year-long wait for payment for the Volvos looks certain to continue for several decades more, with North Korea's foreign debts today totalling a reported £10.8bn - which equates to trillions of won.

But the Volvos continue to be used to this day in North Korea by taxi drivers, a testament to Swedish engineering. Newsweek reported the vehicles are kept in pristine condition despite their age, although their condition under the bonnet might be a different story.

Given the basket case status of Kim Jung-un's personal kingdom, with reports of grinding poverty and poor social conditions endured by millions, it is easy to question how it doing such a deal could be considered a good idea by Sweden.

North Korea is not in great shape to service hundreds of millions of debt, with its stagnant economy and poverry affecting many citizens. However, in the early years of the regime founded by Kim Il-Sung in 1948 things were looking up and it actually outperformed its neighbour and deadly foe to the south of the Korean Peninsula. At that time North was seen as a legitimate trading partner.

This consensus was soon blown away as the North began defaulting on its debts and was later cast in to the outer darkness by the international community for indulging in regular bouts of sabre-rattling with its nuclear arsenal.

But the Volvos continue trundling around Pyongyang to this day.