North Korea’s first and only law firm ends its operation

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North Korea’s first and only law firm ends its operation

North Korea’s first and only foreign law firm, Hay & Associates (HK&A), suspended its legal practice in Pyongyang on Monday, affected by deteriorating relations between North Korea and the rest of the world after the nation was hit with crushing global sanctions earlier this year.

On its website, HK&A, which is based in Pyongyang and headed by Michael Hay, a dual French and British citizen, stated its decision “to suspend all its activities inside the DPRK,” the abbreviation of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The decision put an end to the firm’s 12 years of foreign legal service in the reclusive state.

Noting that its decision was not made lightly and followed “lengthy and thorough deliberation and an examination” of what has unfolded with Pyongyang, it said its final call especially involved events that occurred in the “first several months of this year,” referring to the North’s fourth underground nuclear test in January and a long-range missile launch the following month.

Pyongyang’s provocations prompted the international community to slap it with the toughest-ever economic sanctions in March, which has further isolated the authoritarian regime by shutting down flows of foreign currency into the North that could be used for its nuclear ambitions.

It also has made things much tougher for foreign investors, the law firm’s main clients, to tap into the North Korean market.

On its website, the law firm boasts of its legal expertise, specialization in North Korea, 20 years of legal experience both in South and North Korea and Hay’s own Korean linguistic and cultural understanding.

The firm says it has led business negotiations with Pyongyang in various fields ranging from “power and energy to aviation, IT, transportation and infrastructure, the food & drink industry and tourism, among others.”

The law firm left open the possibility for the resumption of operations, saying it would re-examine the situation should there be a breakthrough in the future. It also said it would keep its Pyongyang office open.

HK&A was established in 2004 in a joint venture with the Communist state when Pyongyang appeared to be on track to opening up to the world as Seoul pursued engagement policies, known as the Sunshine Policy, trying to induce it to end its isolation and drop its nuclear program with a package of economic aids and cooperation.

But over the past 12 years, the North has carried out four nuclear tests, the first in 2006 and the last in January.

Amid growing tensions with the North, all joint business cooperation between the two Koreas came to a halt early this year after Seoul withdrew South Korean workers from the Kaesong joint industrial complex across the border in February.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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