By Garrett Cecere
On Thursday, April 25, CNN reported that North Korea provided the U.S. with a $2 million bill for the hospital expenses of American prisoner Otto Warmbier before releasing him nearly two years ago.
Warmbier, who was a student at the University of Virginia, had been in a coma and spent more than a year in a North Korean prison for attempting to steal a propaganda poster. Upon returning home, his family had said he was unresponsive. The 22-year-old died six days later at a Cincinnati hospital, according to a June 2017 New York Times article that reported his death.
The bill was given to Joseph Yun, the former state department special representative for North Korea, who was sent to the capital city of Pyongyang to bring Warmbier to the U.S. CBS News reported that Yun had signed off to pay the bill. However, the U.S. had no plans for compensation.
Yun had informed Rex Tillerson — the Secretary of State at the time — of the bill before signing it. Tillerson then told President Donald Trump, according to CNN.
Two sources told The Washington Post that the bill stayed with the Treasury Department and was unpaid through 2017. There have been no comments from the White House.
“‘We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why is why they have been so successful during this administration,’” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, according to CBS News.
Otto’s father, Fred Warmbier, said that the bill seemed like a “‘ransom’” and that he had never been informed of it. The Washington Post reported that North Korea did not tell U.S. officials that Warmbier was in a coma until just before his release, which prompted Yun to bring the student home.
While many Americans were already appalled by the brain damage that Warmbier had suffered during his incarceration in North Korea before dying, the request for the U.S. to pay for the student’s hospital bill has sparked outrage from several officials, including Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights, according to The Washington Post. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown — R-Ohio and D-Ohio, respectively — have also spoken out against North Korea’s role in the situation.
“‘They killed a perfectly healthy and happy college student and then had the audacity to expect the U.S. government to pay for his care,’” Scarlatoiu told The Washington Post.
North Korea has claimed that Warmbier got sick from food and contracted botulism. The director of North Korea’s Friendship Hospital also said the student’s family’s claims that he died after being tortured misrepresented the truth, according to The Washington Post.
Warmbier’s parents sued the North Korean government in December and were awarded $501 million. However, The Washington Post reported that it is unlikely they will actually see the money from Kim Jong Un’s regime.
In February, the president supported Kim’s claim that he was unaware of Warmbier’s treatment while he was imprisoned, which led to a backlash from the student’s parents, according to CNN.
“‘…Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity,’” Warmbier’s parents said in a statement to CNN. “‘No excuses or lavish praise can change that. Thank you.’”