American Otto Warmbier, a college student, was arrested in North Korea in 2016 for taking a propaganda poster. Immediately after his imprisonment he was rendered comatose, with severe brain damage; it was not until 2017 that North Korea acknowledged his condition. An American team flew to Pyongyang to retrieve him, but it turns out that securing Warmbier’s release was even more complicated than we previously knew. The North Koreans demanded that America agree to pay $2 million for Warmbier’s extensive medical care before he would be released.
[State Department official Joseph Yun] called 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.
It’s not clear whether the money has been paid, because nobody from the administration was willing to answer the Washington Post’s questions. We’re left to speculate on whether the United States indeed paid a $2 million ransom for the student, who died soon afterward.
Trump, for his part, has maintained that Kim did not know about Warmbier’s imprisonment and injuries, based on the dictator’s own say-so. “He tells me he didn’t know about it and I take him at his word,” Trump insisted after his February summit with Kim. While Trump has a storied history of not paying money to contractors and business associates, it seems unlikely he would injure his blossoming relationship with the brutal North Korean leader by reneging on a promised ransom.