Otto Warmbier seen for first time since detainment, confesses to "hostile act"

North Korean officials claim Warmbier attempted to steal political banner


Warmbier has been detained since Jan. 2, according to Young Pioneer Tours.

Third-year Commerce student Otto Frederick Warmbier confessed to stealing a political banner in a press conference in North Korea Sunday, according to CNN.

CNN reports Warmbier held a press conference in Pyongyang “at his own request” and confessed to committing a “hostile act” against the state with the support of an Ohio church, the Z Society and the Central Intelligence Agency.

U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said there is “absolutely” reason to be concerned about Warmbier’s treatment in North Korea at the department’s daily press briefing Monday.

It is unknown if Warmbier was coerced by the North Korean government into his confession.

"I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel," Warmbier said.

Warmbier apologized to the people of North Korea and said he is a victim of the United States’ “hostile” policies against North Korea.

"My reward for my crime was so much smaller than the rewards that the Z Society and the Friendship United Methodist Church get from the United States Administration,” Warmbier said.

CNN reports a North Korean official said Warmbier researched political slogans of the DPRK online prior to his trip and went into the second floor of the Yanggakdo International Hotel before 2 a.m. Jan. 1 in an attempt to steal a sign with a political slogan.

The sign was bigger than Warmbier anticipated and he was unable to take the sign.

“The slogan was bigger than he had thought. So he couldn't take it away and turned it upside down and deserted [it] on the floor when he had pulled it from the hangers," the official told CNN.

CNN reports Warmbier said he was manipulated by the U.S. government and begged for forgiveness from the DPRK.

“I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!” Warmbier said, according to CNN.

A North Korean official told CNN the DPRK believes Warmbier was influenced by a member of Friendship United Methodist Church in his hometown of Wyoming, OH.

The church member allegedly offered Warmbier a $10,000 used car if the took a political slogan from North Korea “to weaken the ideological unity and motivation of the North Koreans.”

Church officials have told CNN Warmbier is not a church member.

CNN also reports North Korea believes the Z Society offered Warmbier membership in exchange for carrying out a “mission” of taking a political slogan.

The U.S. State Department is aware of the situation.

“We are aware of media reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea,” a State Department official said.

The official said the welfare of U.S. citizens is one of the Department’s highest priorities and in cases where U.S. citizens are confirmed missing in North Korea, the department works closely with the Swedish Embassy, which serves as the United States’ Protecting Power in North Korea.

U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said there is “absolutely” reason to be concerned about Warmbier’s treatment in North Korea at the department’s daily press briefing Monday.

While the State Department could not offer specific information on negotiating Warmbier’s release, Kirby said it is not unusual for North Korea to detain foreigners.

“As a general practice, North Korea arrests and imprisons people for actions that would not give rise to arrests, let alone imprisonment, in the United States,” Kirby said.

Kirby said this precedent did not necessarily have any bearing on Warmbier’s case.

“It’s a fact that they’ve done this in the past, [but] I can’t speak with any greater detail on this [case],” Kirby said.

University officials are not offering comment at this time.

“The University is aware of recent media reports and remains in close contact with Otto Warmbier’s family. We will have no further comment at this time,” University Spokesperson Matt Charles said in an email statement.

Warmbier was on a trip with Young Pioneer Tours when he was detained at the Pyongyang Airport on Jan. 2. YPT CEO Gareth Johnson said the company declines to comment at this time.

The Z Society did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

related stories