Trump: US paid no money to North Korea over Warmbier

Trump says the US did not pay $2m to North Korea to get American college student Otto Warmbier released from detention.

    Otto Frederick Warmbier is taken to North Korea''s top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on March 16, 2016 [File: Kyodo/Reuters]
    Otto Frederick Warmbier is taken to North Korea''s top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on March 16, 2016 [File: Kyodo/Reuters]

    US President Donald Trump on Friday said the United States did not pay any money to North Korea as it sought the release of Otto Warmbier, a day after a report said Trump had approved a two-million-dollar bill from Pyongyang for the American student's care.

    "No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else," Trump wrote in a tweet.

    The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Trump had approved payment of two million dollars to Pyongyang to cover its care of the comatose college student, who was held in a North Korean prison for 17 months until June 2017.

    The Treasury Department received the bill from North Korea and it remained unpaid through 2017, the Post reported. It was not clear whether the administration paid the invoice later.

    Trump's tweet did not address whether any agreement had been made, and representatives for the White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

    Warmbier, a University of Virginia student from Ohio visiting North Korea as a tourist, was imprisoned in January 2016. 

    190301170417154

    He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for allegedly trying to steal an item with a propaganda slogan from his hotel, North Korean state media said.

    Doctors said he suffered severe brain damage while in North Korean detention, fell into a coma and died days after arriving back in the US.

    North Korea, which has dismissed claims that it tortured the student, blamed food poisoning and a sleeping pill.

    Warmbier's parents have said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "and his evil regime" are responsible for their son's death.

    Last December, a US court ordered North Korea to pay $501m in damages for the torture and death of Warmbier.

    Hostage negotiations

    In his tweet on Friday morning, Trump defended his handling of hostage negotiations and slammed efforts by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

    He noted that the Obama administration had swapped five Taliban prisoners to secure the release of Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army sergeant who has since been dishonourably discharged.

    Trump also accused Obama officials of paying ransom money in exchange for the return of four detained Americans in 2016, a charge the Obama administration has denied.

    The Obama administration had said the payment of $400m to Iran settled a long-standing Iranian claim at The Hague that coincided with four detained Americans' return but was not a ransom. 

    181225003924301

    Obama had also defended the deal that led to Bergdahl's release and later changed the way the US government handles cases in which Americans are detained by armed groups following a six-month review of the issue.

    A spokeswoman for Obama's office had no immediate comment on Trump's tweet.

    SOURCE: News agencies