A federal judge in Washington ordered North Korea to pay $501 million to the parents of Otto Warmbier, who died in 2017 shortly after being released from a North Korean prison.
In an opinion issued on Christmas Eve, District Judge Beryl A. Howell quoted emotional lines of testimony from Warmbier’s mother and recounted grim details of his treatment in North Korea that underpinned the judgment, CNN reported on Monday.
“An American family, the Warmbiers, experienced North Korea’s brutality first-hand when North Korea seized their son to use as a pawn in that totalitarian state’s global shenanigans and face-off with the US,” Howell wrote.
North Korean officials detained Warmbier in 2016 as he tried to leave the country after spending five days there on a commercial tour.
Warmbier, then a student at the University of Virginia, was accused by the government of stealing a political poster from a restricted floor in his hotel.
Warmbier returned to the US in June of 2017 after negotiations led by the Trump administration. Then 22 years old, Warmbier was blind and deaf and had sustained severe brain damage from his time in detention.
He died less than a week later in his hometown of Cincinnati.
Warmbier’s parents sued North Korea in April, this year, over their son’s death.
In a statement on Monday, Fred and Cindy Warmbier thanked Howell and called the decision a “significant step on our journey.”
“We are thankful that the US has a fair and open judicial system so that the world can see that the Kim regime is legally and morally responsible for Otto’s death,” they said in the statement.
“We put ourselves and our family through the ordeal of a lawsuit and public trial because we promised Otto that we will never rest until we have justice for him,” they added.