North Korea : US student apologises for poster theft

Detained student put in front of the media confesses to taking political poster for a US church in return for a car.

Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who has been detained in North Korea since early January, attends a new conference in Pyongyang, North Korea
No details of charges or the punishment Otto Warmbier, 21, faces were released [Kyodo/Reuters]

A detained American student tearfully apologised for attempting to steal a political banner in North Korea from his hotel after being paraded in front of the media in Pyongyang.

Otto Warmbier, 21, an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, was arrested in January for committing what North Korea called “an anti-state crime” with “the tacit connivance of the US government and under its manipulation”.

Warmbier said on Monday that he wanted the banner with a political slogan on it as a trophy for a church back home. He said that he was offered a second-hand car worth $10,000 and was told if he was arrested and did not return, $200,000 would be paid to his mother.

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Warmbier said that he accepted the offer because his family was “suffering from very severe financial difficulties”.

“I started to consider this as my only golden opportunity to earn money,” he said, adding that if he ever mentioned the involvement of the church, “no payments would come.”

He said he was also encouraged by the “Z Society” at the University of Virginia, which he said he was trying to join. The magazine of the university’s alumni association describes the Z Society as a “semi-secret ring society” founded in 1892 which conducts philanthropy, puts on honorary dinners, and grants academic awards.

Charges and punishment

No details of what kind of charges or punishment Warmbier faces were immediately released.

In previous cases, people who have been arrested in North Korea and given a public confession often recant those admissions after their release.

North Korea regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of sending spies to overthrow its government to enable the US-backed South Korean government to control the Korean peninsula.

Warmbier was arrested while visiting the country with Young Pioneer Tours, an agency specialising in travel to the North, which is strongly discouraged by the US State Department.

He had been staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, which is located on an island on a river that runs through Pyongyang.

 Tensions high as South Korea accuses Pyongyang of provocations

Source: AP