As American officials negotiated the release of American college student Otto Warmbier, the North Koreans demanded $2 million for his medical care, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
It’s not clear if the U.S. ever paid that bill—a North Korean condition for turning over the comatose University of Virginia student—but the Post did report that President Trump instructed the U.S. envoy sent to collect Warmbier to sign a pledge to do so. Warmbier died six days after his release. The bill was sent to the Treasury Department, where it sat through 2017. It’s possible the Trump administration later made the payment, but other news outlets have reported that the invoice has not been paid.
Trump himself has repeatedly bragged that the U.S. paid no money to North Korea when arranging the return of Warmbier and other American citizens held by the state.
According to reporting about the negotiations and rescue, it was clear when a U.S. doctor examined Warmbier in North Korea in June 2017 that he would never return to a healthy state. He apparently went into a coma the night he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for pulling down a propaganda poster in a hotel in Pyongyang in 2016. His parents have insisted the coma was a result of torture. An American doctor who examined Warmbier 15 months after the event that caused the coma said Warmbier appeared to be well cared for in the hospital. Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who examined Warmbier after he returned home found no physical evidence of torture. The exact cause of his brain damage remains a mystery.
Fred Warmbier told the Post that the $2 million bill sounded to him like a “ransom” for his son.
Trump himself has said he does not believe that the North Koreans tortured Warmbier, as Kim Jong-un apparently told him that he did not know about Warmbier’s treatment. “I don’t believe he would have allowed that to happen,” Trump said in February, after his second summit with Kim. “He tells me he didn’t know about it, and I take him at his word.”