The parents of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who died after being taken hostage by North Korea and released by the country in a coma in 2017, should receive $240,300 seized from a North Korean bank account, a federal judge has ruled last week.
The amount would be a partial payment toward the more than $501 million Fred and Cindy Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio, were awarded in 2018 by a federal judge who ruled that the secretive regime was responsible for the UVa third-year student’s kidnapping, torture and death.
The payment was ordered last week by a federal judge in New York, who directed the state comptroller to give the Warmbiers money seized from North Korea. It’s unclear how much of the $501 million award has been paid to the Warmbiers.
The couple have claimed that their son, a third-year UVa Echols Scholar, was tortured by North Korea after being convicted in 2016 of trying to steal a propaganda poster and imprisoned for months. The 22-year-old suffered severe brain damage and died shortly after being returned to the United States in a vegetative state in June 2017.
After his death, Warmbier’s lead neurologist concluded his brain damage most likely resulted from loss of blood flow to the brain for a period of five to 20 minutes. Experts told the court that his injuries were consistent with torture.
Warmbier was arrested in January 2016 as he prepared to leave the country after a five-day trip to North Korea with a tour group.
North Korea officials at the time of his arrest said Warmbier was under investigation for “perpetrating a hostile act against the [country] after entering it under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity at the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.”
North Korea denied that it tortured or cruelly treated Warmbier and said it was the “biggest victim” in his death, accusing Washington politicians and South Korea of orchestrating a smear campaign.
During a 2019 Hanoi, Vietnam summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, then-President Donald Trump said he didn’t think Kim was involved in the mistreatment of Warmbier.
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.” Trump said at the time.
Warmbier told the North Korean court he wanted the banner with a political slogan on it as a trophy for the church member, who was the mother of a friend and was offered a used car in exchange.
He also said one of UVa’s secret societies encouraged him to take a banner.
North Korea’s highest court sentenced Warmbier to 15 years of hard labor in prison.