Washington D.C. District Court judge Beryl Howell has ordered North Korea to pay $501 million to the family of Otto Warmbier, a Jewish student who was imprisoned in the country and died just days after his release as a result of his poor treatment.
The court on Monday awarded the Warmbiers approximately half the verdict they had requested.
Otto Warmbier traveled to Hong Kong for a study-abroad program and decided to visit North Korea on a guided tour. He was accused in January 2016 of attempting to steal a political banner that read “Let’s arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong-il’s patriotism!”
He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment with hard labor.
In June 2017, after a series of high-level negotiations, Warmbier was released, but was soon discovered to have suffered severe brain damage and arrived home to his family in Cincinnati in a coma. He died six days later while hospitalized.
Cindy and Fred Warmbier, Otto’s parents, have accused North Korea of “repeatedly [lying] about the causes of Otto’s condition,” including failing to “acknowledge its abhorrent actions.” The couple accused North Korea of torturing and murdering Otto, a charge denied by North Korea.
In their campaign to free Otto, the Warmbiers kept his Jewish identity a secret for fear of embarrassing and enraging the North Korean regime, which had accused Warmbier of stealing the sign at the behest of a Methodist church in which he was said to be a member.
Judge Howell ruled that Otto’s estate is entitled to $150 million in punitive damages and $21 million in damages, and that his parents are each entitled to $150 million in punitive damages and $15 million in compensatory damages.