U.S. court orders North Korea to pay $500M for death of college student
Otto Warmbier died last year after being released from captivity in North Korea
A U.S. court on Monday ordered Pyongyang to pay $501 million in damages for the torture and death last year of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, who died after being released from captivity in North Korea.
Warmbier's parents sued North Korea in April over their son's death.
The 22-year-old student died after being imprisoned in North Korea from January 2016 until he was returned to the United States in a coma in June 2017. He died a few days later and an Ohio coroner said the cause was lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.
Warmbier was arrested after allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster. He was sentenced to 15 years behind bars with hard labour on an attempted theft charge.
"The plaintiffs' motion for default judgment is granted," Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia said in her ruling.
"North Korea is liable for the torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier, and the injuries to his mother and father, Fred and Cindy Warmbier," Howell said.
Pyongyang has blamed botulism and ingestion of a sleeping pill for Warmbier's death and dismissed torture claims.
Parents promised son justice
Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement they had promised their son justice. "We are thankful that the United States has a fair and open judicial system so that the world can see that the Kim [Jong-un] regime is legally and morally responsible for Otto's death," the Warmbiers said.
"We put ourselves and our family through the ordeal of a lawsuit and public trial because we promised Otto that we will never rest until we have justice for him," they said. "Today's thoughtful opinion by Chief Judge Howell is a significant step on our journey."
Howell's ruling was a default judgment, a type of decision entered against a party that does not appear in court. Default judgments against foreign defendants are often difficult to collect.
U.S. courts can compensate default judgment holders 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 U.S. financial system.
The ruling comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-North Korea diplomatic relations, as the two countries negotiate the dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
U.S. President Donald Trump has said that Warmbier did not die in vain and his death helped initiate a process that led to a historic meeting this year between Trump and North Korean leader Kim.
A student at the University of Virginia, Warmbier was imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months starting in January 2016. He had been visiting the country as a tourist.