Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
Published 12:31 p.m. ET Dec. 18, 2019 | Updated 12:51 p.m. ET Dec. 18, 2019
WASHINGTON — The parents of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died after being imprisoned in North Korea for a year, urged the White House on Wednesday to approve a measure in a massive defense bill that would punish banks for dealing with the regime.
The Otto Warmbier North Korea Nuclear Sanctions and Enforcement Act mandates sanctions on banks and companies that engage in illicit financial transactions with North Korea. The measure is contained in the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets priorities in the $700 billion Pentagon budget.
The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Trump.
Warmbier died in June 2017, shortly after he was released from North Korea in a vegetative state. He was 22 years old at the time of his death.
North Korean authorities had arrested him in January 2016 at the Pyongyang airport and accused him of attempting to steal a propaganda poster. Warmbier was pressured to make a confession, subjected to a one-hour trial and then imprisoned for months.
When Warmbier was eventually returned to the Cincinnati area, his parents were shocked at his condition. He was blind and deaf. His head was shaved and he had a feeding tube coming out of his nose, according to a lawsuit the family filed against North Korea.
A U.S. District Court judge ultimately ruled that North Korea was liable for the torture and death of Otto Warmbier, who was a student at the University of Virginia at the time. His parents have a $500 million judgment against the country.
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Wednesday, his mother Cindy Warmbier urged the White House to take a hard line on North Korea. “Don’t make a bad deal, and don’t believe a word they say,” she said.
Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., joined the Warmbiers at the news conference inside the Capitol. They decried North Korea’s abysmal record on human rights.
Van Hollen said the sanctions would mainly affect Chinese firms doing business with North Korea. China, he said, has “looked the other way.”
Portman credited Trump administration’s outreach to North Korea, which he said had opened lines of communication.
“They helped us to bring Otto home,” Portman said.
Contributing: Jessie Balmert, Cincinnati Enquirer
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