U.S. court orders North Korea to pay $501 million in death of U.S. student

FILE PHOTO: 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, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016. Mandatory credit Kyodo/File Photo via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. court on Monday ordered Pyongyang to pay $501 million in damages for the torture and death U.S. college student Otto Wambier, who died shortly in 2017 after being released from a North Korea prison.

Warmbier’s parents sued North Korea in April over their son’s death. The 22-year-old student died in the United States days after being released from captivity in a coma. An Ohio coroner said the cause of death was lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.

“The plaintiffs’ motion for default judgment is granted,” said Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia in her ruling.

“North Korea is liable for the torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier, and the injuries to his mother and father, Fred and Cindy Warmbier,” Howell said.

Pyongyang has blamed botulism and ingestion of a sleeping pill for Warmbier’s death and dismissed torture claims.

The ruling comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-North Korea diplomatic relations, as the sides negotiate the dismantling of Pyongyang’s weapons program.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman

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