North Korea ordered to pay $500 million over Otto Warmbier's death

Clay Curtis
December 25, 2018

A U.S. District Court has ruled that North Korea must pay $501 million to the family of Otto Warmbier, a student who was detained during a 2016 trip to the reclusive, authoritarian state and died shortly after his release in 2017.

The judgment may be mostly a symbolic victory for now since North Korea has yet to respond to any of the allegations in court and there's no practical mechanism for forcing it to do so.

"North Korea is liable for the torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier", Howell, the chief judge of the Washington D.C. federal courts, wrote in her ruling.

Warmbier was 21 years old when he was arrested on January 2, 2016, after being accused of attempting to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel wall while in Pyongyang as part of a tour group.

United States courts can compensate holders of judgments against foreign powers by ordering the seizure of funds or other assets located within the country, but that is unlikely in this case because sanctions prohibit North Korea from accessing the USA financial system.

Warmbier was traveling to Hong Kong for a study overseas program, when he chose to visit North Korea on a guided tour.

Trump said in a Twitter message on Monday: "Christmas Eve briefing with my team working on North Korea - Progress being made".

The parents of Warmbier sued North Korea in a U.S. court after the 22-year-old was flown back to the United States last year in a coma, unrecognizable to his family and dying within days of his return. President Donald Trump held a first-of-its-kind summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June 2018 and plans another next year.

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The ruling comes at a sensitive time in U.S.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman denied that Warmbier had been tortured while in North Korean custody, according to a 2017 report by the country's state-run news agency KCNA.

"Otto's perfectly straight teeth had been rearranged to be misaligned, further indicative of the use of pliers or other tools to inflict that painful damage, plus the scar on his foot may have been caused by multiple applications of electrical shocks", the document states, alleging that he was likely tortured by the North Koreans.

The complaint also said Mr Warmbier was pressured to make a televised confession and then convicted of subversion after a one-hour trial.

In early June 2017, Warmbier's parents were informed he was in a coma and had been in that condition for one year.

Howell said the estate of the 22-year-old University of Virginia student is entitled to $21 million in compensatory damages and $150 million in punitive damages.

United States student Otto Frederick Warmbier, who was arrested for committing hostile acts against North Korea, speaks at a press conference in Pyongyang, Feb. 29, 2016.

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