Trump Denies Paying North Korea Money to Secure Student’s Return

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said the U.S. never paid $2 million medical bill to North Korea to secure the June 2017 release of American college student Otto Warmbier.

"No money was paid to North Korea for Otto Warmbier, not two Million Dollars, not anything else," Trump said in a Friday morning tweet.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Pyongyang presented the U.S. with a $2 million medical bill before allowing Warmbier to be flown to the U.S., where he later died.

Trump, who has touted Warmbier release as a sign of his diplomatic bona fides, stopped short of directly disputing the Post’s claim that the envoy who secured Warmbier’s release "signed an agreement to pay the medical bill on instructions passed down from" the president.

A person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News on Thursday that the U.S. rejected North Korea’s request for payment before Otto Warmbier’s release.

Warmbier was a 21-year-old University of Virginia junior on a group tour when he was seized by North Korean authorities in January 2016, and accused of trying to steal a propaganda poster praising dictator Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong Un’s father.

He was initially sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but was returned to the U.S. in June 2017 in a comatose state -- brain dead, blind and deaf. He died shortly afterward in Ohio, his home state.

Following his hastily adjourned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in February, Trump said he takes Kim “at his word” that he wasn’t aware of Warmbier’s imprisonment and torture.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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