WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday that the U.S. did not pay $2 million to North Korea in 2017 to get American college student Otto Warmbier released from detention.
Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, died in June 2017 shortly after he was flown home comatose after 17 months in captivity. He had been seized from a tour group while visiting North Korea in January 2016 and convicted on charges of trying to steal a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
North Korea, which has denied accusations by relatives that it tortured Warmbier, has said he was provided “medical treatments and care with all sincerity.”
A former U.S. official told The Associated Press on Thursday that a U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier signed an agreement to pay the $2 million on Trump’s instructions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic matter. The Washington Post first reported the demand.
Trump dismissed the reports and insisted no money was paid.
“We did not pay money for our great Otto,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “There was no money paid.
“There was a fake news report that money was paid. I haven’t paid money for any hostage that I’ve gotten. We don’t pay money for hostages. The Otto case was a very unusual case. But no money was paid for Otto.”
North Korea has denied accusations by Warmbier’s relatives that the student was tortured during captivity.
Rep. Steve Stivers issued a statement on North Korea’s demand Friday:
“This is further evidence of a brutal dictatorship with no respect for humanity. Kim Jong-un bears the full responsibility for the death of Otto Warmbier, and that includes the medical bills that were incurred as a result of his horrific treatment.”
A statement was also issued by Senator Sherrod Brown:
After the cruel and inhumane way the North Korean regime treated Otto Warmbier, it’s unconscionable to issue a medical bill and expect payment. Otto never should have been detained by North Korea and he would be alive today if not for the regime’s sham legal proceedings.