North Korea demanded that the United States pay a $2 million medical bill for US student Otto Warmbier, who went into a coma after allegedly being tortured in the totalitarian country, a report said Thursday. The Washington Post quoted unidentified sources as saying that a US official was made to sign a pledge to pay an invoice for the medical costs before being allowed to fly Warmbier back home from Pyongyang in 2017.
The envoy signed the pledge on instructions from President Donald Trump, according to the Post report. It was unclear whether the bill was ever paid, the report said. Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was imprisoned after being accused of taking down a propaganda poster in his hotel during a trip to North Korea.
Doctors said he had suffered severe brain damage while in North Korean detention, fell into a coma and died days after arriving back in the United States. North Korea denied claims by the Warmbier family that he had been tortured, saying he had contracted botulism. A coroner who examined Warmbier’s body said: “We don’t know what happened to him. That’s the bottom line”.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders’ only reaction to the Post report was: “We do not comment on hostage negotiations, which is why they have been so successful during this administration.” Trump has made rapprochement with North Korea one of his signature policies and he has held two summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. At their last meeting in Hanoi in February, Trump said he accepted Kim’s claim not to have known what had happened to Warmbier in prison, despite the case being extraordinarily sensitive. “I will take him at his word,” Trump said