Korean contractors working in the Middle East and South East Asia are owed more than $1bn, according to the Construction and Transportation Ministry.

The largest share is owed by Libya, where contract payments worth $405m – 39% of the total – are outstanding. Saudi Arabia comes next, with $255m (25%), followed by Thailand, with $49m, and Iraq, with $44m.

A ministry official said the true figure could actually be higher because most construction companies are reluctant to reveal exact figures for fear of embarrassing their clients.

Rising oil prices, particularly in the Middle East, could provide some respite. The lifting of United Nations sanctions against Libya is also expected to help clients settle their bills, the ministry official said.

Korean contractors are looking at $10bn worth of overseas construction orders this year.