A US court on Monday ordered Pyongyang to pay US$501 million for the torture and death of American university student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being released from a North Korean prison in 2017.
The decision came after Warmbier’s parents sued Pyongyang in April over their son’s death, according to Reuters.
Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the US District Court for Washington, DC, awarded $501,134,683.80 to the family, most of it in punitive damages.
After he was repatriated to the US in a coma, the 22-year-old died from a lack of oxygen and blood to the brain, an Ohio coroner said.
“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,” Judge Howell of the US District Court said in her ruling.
North Korea has consistently denied the claims of torture, pointing the blame at botulism and ingestion of a sleeping pill that caused the student’s death.
In a statement, Fred and Cindy Warmbier pledged to seek justice for their son.
“We are thankful that the United States 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,” the Warmbiers said.
“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 said. “Today’s thoughtful opinion by Chief Judge Howell is a significant step on our journey.”
North Korea is highly unlikely to pay the penalty willingly and it comes amid US President Donald Trump’s diplomatic drive to reach a potential landmark deal with leader Kim Jong Un.
While US courts can compensate default judgment holders by ordering the seizure of funds or other assets located within the country, North Korea would unlikely see any assets taken as it was banned from accessing the US financial system.
Earlier Trump has insisted Warmbier did not die in vain and his death helped initiate a process that led to a historic meeting this year with Kim Jong Un.
Trump said in a Twitter message on Monday: “Christmas Eve briefing with my team working on North Korea – Progress being made. Looking forward to my next summit with Chairman Kim!”
A second meeting between Trump and Kim is expected to be held in the new year, US officials said.
Warmbier, who attended the University of West Virginia was imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months starting in January 2016.
Visiting the country as a tourist, North Korean state media said he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for attempting to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel.