In the summer of 2017, just before the release of American student Otto Warmbier from North Korean custody, a U.S. diplomat signed a pledge that Washington would pay $2 million for the 22-year-old’s lengthy hospital stay in Pyongyang, the Washington Post reports.
It’s unclear if the bill, which Warmbier’s father described as a “ransom,” was ever paid. Two “people familiar with the situation” told the Post’s Anna Fifield that the Treasury Department hadn’t sent a check as of the end of 2017. “However, it is unclear whether the Trump administration later paid the bill, or whether it came up during preparations for Trump’s two summits with Kim Jong Un,” the Post reports.
The bill, and the agreement to sign it, were presented to Joseph Yun, the State Department’s former special representative for North Korea Policy, in the lead-up to Warmbier’s release. The Post describes what Yun did after he received the bill:
Yun called the then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and told him about the bill. Tillerson called Trump. They instructed their envoy to sign the piece of paper agreeing that he would pay the $2 million, the two people said.
In 2016, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for tearing down a propaganda poster in a Pyongyang hotel. On the night of his sentencing, he fell into a coma. North Korea later said Warmbier got sick after an allergic reaction to a sleeping pill and fighting off a case of botulism. Just days after returning to the U.S. in a vegetative state, he died.
At the time of Warmbier’s death, President Trump called out the “brutality of the North Korean regime.” But he’s recently changed his tune. In February, after meeting with Kim Jong-un, Trump absolved the leader of any role in Warmbier’s death.
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said. “Those prisons are rough. They’re rough places, and bad things happen. But I don’t believe he knew about it.”