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Portman: U.S. Owes Nothing To North Korea After Otto Warmbier's Death

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
John Minchillo
Associated Press

North Korea insisted the U.S. agree to pay $2 million in medical costs in 2017 before it released detained Ohio college student Otto Warmbier while he was in a coma, a former U.S. official said Thursday.

But Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who recently wore an “Otto” shirt at the Korean border, says the U.S. doesn't owe North Korea anything. That bill remains unpaid.

Warmbier was jailed in December 2015 after North Korea claimed he stole a propaganda poster and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor. Eventually Portman and others learned the Wyoming High graduate was brain damaged.

The Washington Post, citing two people familiar with the situation, first reported the demand and that the envoy signed the agreement. Trump insisted in a tweetFriday that "no money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else."

After 17 months in captivity, Warmbier was flown home comatose and died shortly after arriving in the U.S. Portman scoffs at paying the regime anything.

"He ended up in this dire condition caused by the North Koreans and then for 16 months they hid that from all of us," he said.

Portman says, in fact, North Korea owes the Warmbiers $500 million for the death of their son. The Warmbiers sued North Korea in April 2018, accusing the regime of hostage-taking and torture.

"North Korea owed a debt to the Warmbier family for how they terribly mistreated their son and there were so many ways Otto was mistreated,” he said.

Warmbier’s father Fred told the Post he was never told about the hospital bill and said it sounded like "ransom" for his late son.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.