Jan 19, 2022 - World

Otto Warmbier's family awarded $240K from seized North Korean assets

Otto Warmbier being escorted out of a court room by guards in Pyongyang in March 2016.

Otto Warmbier is escorted out of a courtroom by guards in Pyongyang in March 2016. Photo: Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images

The family of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was detained in North Korea for 17 months and died in 2017 shortly after being returned to the U.S. in a coma, was awarded more than $240,000 in seized assets from Pyongyang, a New York federal court ruled.

Why it matters: The payment is part of a $500 million wrongful death lawsuit, in which Warmbier's family alleged that North Korea took him hostage, tortured him and was responsible for his death.

Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student at the time, traveled to North Korea in 2015, where he was arrested and accused of stealing a propaganda poster from a restricted area of his hotel.

  • After publicly confessing to the crime with a script that some experts have said was likely drafted by North Korean officials, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
  • After a total of 17 months in captivity, he was flown back to the U.S. on June 13 with severe brain damage that North Korea attributed, without evidence, to botulism, and he died six days later in a Cincinnati hospital.
  • A federal judge in December 2018 ruled that North Korea was responsible for Warmbier's death and ordered Pyongyang to pay his family $500 million.

The big picture: The $240,000 awarded by the Northern District Court of New York last week was seized from the country’s Korea Kwangson Banking Corp. after the government and bank did not respond to multiple court orders and notices.

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