About the Author
View more articles by Chad O'Carroll
Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
At least three rooms were illuminated by night at the top of the Pyongyang Ryugyong Hotel this October, suggesting construction may have resumed at the ill-fated pyramid-shaped building.
The development, captured in video exclusively obtained by NK News, is notable because there has been no sign of construction at the iconic structure since window panes and a telecommunications mast were added in 2011.
Three rooms beneath an aircraft warning light can be seen in the video, illuminated across two different floors near the very top of the 105-floor building. The lights suggest a stable electricity connection exists to the very highest point of the building.
A regular visitor to North Korea told NK Pro on Monday that a private jet belonging to Orascom, which visited Pyongyang this week, likely carrying Egyptian CEO Naguib Sawiris, might have been there to discuss the future of the building.
“Apparently (he’s there) for a visit to the Ryugyong to see about working on that again,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity due the sensitivity of speaking to media.
Orascom, the Egyptian majority shareholder of North Korea’s Koryolink cellphone network, was obliged to add window panes to the concrete structure as part of its deal to enter the DPRK telecommunications sector in 2008.
The firm was suspected of having spent millions on the building, but photos released by the Beijing-based Koryo Tours agency showed in 2012 that the structure was still empty, without fixtures or furnishings visible.
“I’m very surprised to see the top of the Ryugyong lit,” said Peter Ward, a Seoul-based North Korea researcher.
“Maybe Orascom did more than give the building a fresh plate of glass,” he said. “The fact they have added an aircraft warning light is interesting, if slightly puzzling.”
Luxury hotel company Kempinski announced in 2012 that it would be opening a small hotel at the top of the building, but it pulled out in early 2013, stating to NK News that “market entry is not currently possible”.
North Korean officials previously claimed the building would eventually contain the country’s premier restaurants, hotel accommodation, apartments, and business facilities.