Switzerland blocks deal to sell ski lifts to N. Korea

Switzerland said Monday that it had blocked a deal to sell top-notch ski lifts to North Korea, in a move that could delay what is seen as leader Kim Jong-Un's pet ski resort project.

Swiss company Bartholet Maschinenbau (BMF) had reportedly all but agreed to sell mechanical chair lifts and cable cars to Pyongyang to help fulfill Kim's vision of a "world class" ski resort, being built as rival South Korea prepares to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

But Switzerland's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) told AFP it had blocked the deal, reportedly worth 7.0 million Swiss francs ($7.6 million, 5.7 million euros), after the Swiss government in early July expanded its sanctions on North Korea.

Confirming a weekend report by the SonntagsZeitung weekly, SECO spokeswoman Marie Avet explained in an email why selling supplies to the Masik Pass resort project in northeastern North Korea fell under the expanded sanctions on luxury exports to the country.

"This is obviously a prestigious propaganda project for the regime," she wrote, adding that judging from North Korea's political-economic situation, "it is inconceivable that this resort will be used by the general public."

The Swiss government therefore "considers it inappropriate for Swiss companies to participate in such projects," she said.

According to a report in Swiss daily Le Temps Monday, the world leading ski lift provider, Austrian Doppelmayr, had already turned down the North Korean order "for political reasons", as had French Pomagalski.

BMF, which could not be immediately reached for comment, had meanwhile reportedly accepted the order, but to be safe, had checked with SECO in early June that the deal could go through.

SECO first advised against the deal but said it was not illegal, only to revise that position after the government expanded its North Korea sanctions last month.

"Such exports were prohibited on July 3," Avet said.

North Korea has a special link to Switzerland -- Kim Jong-Un attended secondary school near Bern, without revealing his true identity, and reportedly learned to ski on the slopes in the small Alpine country.

The Masik ski resort has been heavily promoted by the North's propaganda machine since Kim visited it in June and proclaimed that the facility, with 110 kilometres (70 miles) of multi-level ski runs, a hotel, heliport and cable cars, should be completed by the end of the year.