North Korea ordered to pay over $500 million to Otto Warmbier's parents

Fred and Cindy Warmbier filed a suit against the North Korean government in a federal court in Washington last April.
Image: Otto Frederick Warmbier
Otto Frederick Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea.Kyodo / Reuters file

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By Julia Ainsley and Kalhan Rosenblatt

The parents of American college student Otto Warmbier are entitled to more than $500 million in damages from the government of North Korea, a judge ruled on Monday.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier, of Wyoming, Ohio, filed a suit against the North Korean government in a federal court in Washington last April seeking $1 billion in damages.

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Otto Warmbier, 22, was arrested in North Korea in January 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison but died last year after being released from the country in a coma follow 17 months of torture in captivity.

The Warmbiers' lawsuit claimed that North Korea violated international law by forcing their son to confess to carrying out an act of subversion on behalf of the U.S. government.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled on Monday "that the defendant Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“North Korea”) shall be liable for damages in the amount of $501,134,683.80," according to court documents.

The breakdown of the sum includes more than $21 million in compensatory damages and $150 million in punitive damages. The judge also ruled the each of Otto Warmbier's parents are entitled to "the sum of $15 million in compensatory damages and $150 million in punitive damages."

North Korea has repeatedly denied the accusation of torturing Warmbier. It was unclear if the government of North Korea would respond to the judgement.

The amount initially sought by the Warmbiers in punitive damages is about 2.5 percent of North Korea's 2015 gross domestic product, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The amount aims to get North Korea to "change its unlawful behavior in the future," the motion said.