In a document, seen by Icelog, sent to the Icelandic Government to underpin his project of investing up to $200m to build a highland resort at Grimsstadir in Iceland, the Chinese entrepreneur Huang Nubo mentions his first ties to Iceland: as a student he became friends with an Icelander and so warm was the friendship that the mother of his Icelandic friend knitted a lopapeysa (a typical Icelandic sweater, made from Icelandic wool in natural colours). This friend, Hjorleifur Sveinbjornsson, later married Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, the leader of the social democrats 2005-2009 and minister of foreign affairs 2007-2009 – and Sveinbjornsson has been one of Huang’s ardent advocates in Iceland.
Huang Nubo is now mightily upset with the Icelandic government for not embracing his plans. According to the FT (subscription only), Huang sees this as a racial discrimination. “I think this is racial discrimination because I am Chinese,” he told the FT. “Many people have invested in Iceland in the past but no one has been treated like I have.”
This isn’t entirely true. There are serious restrictions to foreign investment in Iceland, especially when it comes to investment from outside the EU/EEA. Icelanders tend to be suspicious towards foreign investment. Ia a Canadian company, investing in energy in Iceland, at the time called Magma, now called something else, ran into similar problems, as explained earlier on Icelog. Magma found a way around this by setting up a company in Sweden. This caused hefty debate in Iceland, the investment was accepted – incidentally, this investor seems to have lost interest in Iceland, as sometimes happens.
The serious problem with Huang as an international investor is that he has nothing to show outside of China. The properties and companies he owns in the US are nothing to speak of, in terms of operations and having done something substantial. When he seemed to be losing the bid to invest in Iceland he turned his attention to Denmark, was interviewed there but again, just words and nothing seems to be moving there.
Another problem is the inconsistency in his intentions, which he has aired. He said he would fund it all himself, out of his own pocket and that wouldn’t be a problem. One day, he announced he would fund the Grimstadir operations by selling 100 Grimsstadir luxury dwellings to rich Chinese. It seemed to have escaped his attention that due to restrictions on nonEU/EEA owning property in Iceland this plan would make things very complicated. When I inquired about this with his Huang’s spokesman in Iceland this seemed just one idea out of many.
And this seems to have been a problem all along. There were many ideas and not concrete plans. So far, no independent due diligence has been done by Icelandic public sector entities, negotiating with Huang. All the information worked on comes from Huang himself. In that sense, these entities have not done a convincing job in securing public interest at stake here.
Huang Nubo makes much of the fact that he is a poet. Unfortunately, when it comes to business poetic visions aren’t substantial enough to bank on.
*A link to earlier Icelogs on Huang.
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