Court Battles

Court rules Warmbier family should get $240,000 in seized North Korean assets

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A court has ruled that the family of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died in 2017 after being imprisoned in North Korea, should be awarded more than $240,000 in seized North Korean assets.

Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn ruled that Cynthia and Frederick Warmbier, Otto Warmbier’s parents, should receive $240,336.41 in funds, according to a court document filed last week.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York said the funds should be seized from the Korea Kwangson Banking Corp. (KKBC) after both North Korea and the bank did not respond to previous court orders and notices, according to The Washington Post. The most recent missed deadline was reportedly Jan. 10.

“Neither North Korea nor KKBC has appeared in this action or filed any objections or responses to the petition for turnover within the applicable time periods,” Kahn wrote, according to the Post.

The court determined that the KKBC was an agent of the state, the Post reported. The court also instructed the Office of the State Comptroller in New York to transfer the money it has to Warmbier’s estate “on a final basis,” the newspaper reported.

Warmbier arrived in Pyongyang at the end of 2015 when he was a 21-year-old student at the University of Virginia. He traveled to North Korea with a tourism group as he was making his way to a study abroad program in Hong Kong, but was eventually arrested at the Pyongyang airport for tearing down a propaganda poster in a hotel in 2016.

The student was convicted on charges connected to the incident, which North Korea considered to be a “hostile act against the state,” according to the Post.

Warmbier took part in what appeared to be an arranged news conference in North Korea a month later, where he “confessed” to the “preplanned” crime of attempting to take a propaganda poster. He received a sentence of 15 years in prison with hard labor.

The student later entered a coma. In 2017 he was evacuated to the U.S., still in a coma, and died six days later at a hospital in Ohio.

The Trump administration played a role in his release, but then-President Trump sparked backlash when he told reporters that he did not believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un played a role in Warmbier’s treatment while he was being held hostage.

Trump sought to clarify his comments days later, writing in a tweet that he held North Korea “responsible” for Warmbier’s “mistreatment and death.”

Warmbier’s parents sued North Korea following Otto’s death, and a district judge ultimately determined that the country was liable for $501 million in damages.

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