- Otto Warmbier fell into a coma for unknown reasons on January 1, 2016 – the day he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster during a trip to North Korea.
- The Trump administration successfully negotiated his release in June 2017. He died six days after returning to his native Ohio.
- A new Washington Post report says that the North Koreans made a US official sign a document agreeing to pay them $US2 million for Warmbier’s care before he could leave. It’s unclear if the sum was ever paid.
Within hours of being sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster in 2016, American Otto Warmbier fell into a coma while in North Korean custody.
While it’s unclear what caused the University of Virginia student to become comatose, the North Korean regime has been widely criticised for not telling American officials about the status of his health for more than a year and for issuing such an extreme sentence for what many found to be a petty infraction.
Now it has emerged in a new Washington Post report that the regime demanded the US commit to paying $US2 million for Warmbier’s medical care before he could leave the country, after the Trump administration negotiated his release in June 2017.
Joseph Yun, the State Department’s point man in North Korea at the time, was sent to Pyongchang to bring Warmbier home.
Two people familiar with the situation, who spoke anonymously to The Post, said that the North Koreans gave Yun the bill and insisted that he sign a document, agreeing to pay the sum, before Warmbier would be allowed to go home.
The sources said that Yun called then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to ask him what to do about the bill. Tillerson called President Donald Trump, and Yun was then instructed to sign the agreement.
Because of his condition, Warmbier had to be flown back to the US on a medical flight. He died six days after returning to his native Ohio.
The sources say the bill was sent to the Treasury Department and went unpaid throughout 2016. It’s unclear whether the Trump administration later paid the bill, or whether this was something that was discussed in recent summits with the North Koreans. The White House declined to comment on the matter.
“We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told The Post in an email.
Warmbier’s father, Fred, told the newspaper that he was aware of the bill and said that it sounded like a “ransom.” The US makes a point of not paying ransoms so as to discourage hostage-taking.
The Warmbiers say they are convinced that the North Koreans caused their son’s coma by beating him while he was behind bars, though doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said there was no evidence of that.
The North Koreans claim that Warmbier fell into a coma after suffering a case of botulism and taking a sleeping pill. But doctors also found no signs of botulism in his system either.
- Read more:
- Parents of Otto Warmbier speak out for first time since son’s death: ‘It looked like someone had taken a pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth’
- Who is Otto Warmbier, the college student who died after being held prisoner in North Korea
- Mike Pompeo refused to say whether or not Kim Jong Un knew about Otto Warmbier’s mistreatment – which happened while he was boss of the CIA
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