North Korea charged U.S. $2 million for medical treatment of University student Otto Warmbier

The envoy who retrieved Warmbier signed an agreement that the U.S. would pay before receiving permission to fly the comatose University student from Pyongyang

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Warmbier died within a week of his return to the U.S. in June 2017. Courtesy KYODO Kyodo / Reuters | X01481

North Korea charged the U.S. $2 million for the medical treatment of Otto Warmbier and insisted the envoy sent to retrieve the comatose University student from Pyongyang in 2017 sign a pledge that the U.S. would pay before giving permission to leave.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that, according to two sources familiar with the situation, State Department envoy Joseph Yun signed the agreement to pay the invoice per instructions from President Donald Trump.

The existence of the medical bill charges had not been previously disclosed by officials from either North Korea or the U.S. The bill is said to have remained unpaid in the Treasury Department throughout 2017. The White House reportedly declined to comment on whether it has been resolved since.

“We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in an email to The Washington Post.

Trump addressed the matter Friday and announced that the U.S. did not pay the charges.

“No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else,” Trump tweeted. “This is not the Obama Administration that paid 1.8 Billion Dollars for four hostages, or gave five terroist hostages plus, who soon went back to battle, for traitor Sgt. Bergdahl!”

After a summit meeting between the two leaders in Vietnam this past February, Trump denied that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was to blame for Warmbier’s death.

“I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen, it just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen,” Trump said during a news conference. “Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places, and bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he, I don’t believe that he knew about it.”

In December a federal judge ruled that North Korea owed the Warmbier family $501 million in damages for the torture, hostage taking and death of their son. Warmbier was a third-year Commerce student on a tour of the country when he was arrested in North Korea in January 2016. 

In March 2016, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of prison with hard labor for allegedly stealing political signage from his hotel. Warmbier fell into a coma after he was sentenced, the cause of which is still unknown. U.S. officials weren’t made aware of his comatose state until June 2017.

Warmbier died within a week of his return to the U.S. in June 2017. During his time at the University, Warmbier was an Echols scholar and member of the Theta Chi Fraternity, and he would have graduated in the Class of 2017.

This story has been updated.

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