A British lawyer-turned-consultant has opened North Korea’s first foreign-owned legal and accounting practice in the isolated, pariah state.

North Korea has taken a further tentative step on its economic reform path after it allowed the country’s first law firm to open on a Pyongyang square named after the communist state’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

British lawyer-turned-consultant Michael Hay told four foreign reporters the firm he jointly owns with an outfit spun off from an official North Korean legal agency offered legal and accounting services and advice to potential foreign investors.

“As of August 15, it’s already up and running,” said Hay, who has had business links with the North since 1998. August 15 is the day both Koreas mark their liberation from Japanese occupation at the end of World War Two.

Hay, who said the North’s reform efforts were far from over, said there were about a dozen North Korean lawyers on tap in the firm and he had a North Korean business partner. Hay is seeking a foreign accountant to work with the North Korean accounting organisation affiliated to the new firm.

“They realise they need a comfort level on the part of foreign investors,” Hay said of North Korea on Tuesday. He said outsiders imagined the North had a “dirt-track” legal system.

“It is not. They have no idea how relatively — and I use the word relatively — sophisticated the laws are,” he said.

The key areas to help foreign investors were legal advice, accounting transparency, book-keeping, foreign exchange and repatriating funds. The firm will not represent the North.

Hay’s role as one of the two “principals” of the firm will largely be to supervise its business consulting.

One major West European company is negotiating with the firm, Hay said, but he declined to name it. Major sectors of interest included tourism, energy, mineral extraction, software — and potatoes.

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