Parents of detained student who died sue for seized North Korean ship
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Parents of detained student who died sue for seized North Korean ship

Family of Otto Warmbier claims right to cargo vessel after Pyongyang refuses to respond to $501 million wrongful death judgement

Otto Warmbier arriving at a court for his trial in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2015. (Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images/JTA)
Otto Warmbier arriving at a court for his trial in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2015. (Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images/JTA)

NEW YORK — The parents of Otto Warmbier have filed a claim for a seized North Korean cargo ship, seeking to collect on a multimillion-dollar judgment awarded in the American college student’s death.

The Warmbiers filed court papers Wednesday in New York federal court saying they have a right to the assets after North Korea failed to respond to a wrongful death claim that accused it of abducting Warmbier, who had traveled there for a guided tour ahead of a study abroad program in Hong Kong.

The Warmbiers say their son was tortured after being convicted of trying to steal a propaganda poster and imprisoned for months.

He suffered severe brain damage, but doctors were unable to determine was led to it. The 22-year-old died days after being returned to the US in a vegetative state in 2017.

“The Warmbiers are committed to holding North Korea accountable for the death of their son Otto, and will work tirelessly to seize North Korean assets wherever they may be found,” Ben Hatch, an attorney for the family, said in an emailed statement.

Fred Warmbier, right, listens as his wife Cindy Warmbier speaks of their son Otto Warmbier, an American who died last year, days after his release from captivity in North Korea during a meeting Thursday, May 3, 2018, at the United Nations headquarters. (AP/Frank Franklin II)

North Korea has rejected accusations by relatives that it tortured Warmbier and said he was provided “medical treatments and care with all sincerity.”

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with US President Donald Trump north of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

US President Donald Trump has condemned Warmbier’s treatment but said earlier this year he did not believe North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, knew about it or would have allowed it to happen.

North Korea did not respond to the wrongful death lawsuit that accused it of detaining Warmbier at the Pyongyang airport “in an attempt to extract various concessions from the United States government.”

US District Judge Beryl Howell ruled last year that North Korea “more likely than not barbarically tortured Otto to extract a false confession” and used his lengthy prison sentence as leverage to further its foreign policy objectives.

She ordered North Korea to pay $501 million for its “barbaric mistreatment” of Warmbier, saying the Jewish student’s family “experienced North Korea’s brutality first-hand.”

A North Korean cargo ship, Wise Honest, middle, that was towed into the Port of Pago Pago in the late morning on May 11, 2019, in Pago Pago, American Samoa. (AP Photo/Fili Sagapolutele)

In the latest court filings, Warmbier’s parents claim a right to the North Korean cargo ship, which the US seized in May because it was carrying coal in violation of UN sanctions.

The vessel, North Korea’s second-largest cargo ship, was first detained in April 2018 by Indonesia while transporting a large amount of coal. The US later announced it had seized the 17,061-ton carrier in a first-of-its kind enforcement that came amid a tense moment in relations with North Korea.

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