CINCINNATI — North Korea issued a $2 million bill for hospital care of Otto Warmbier, the American who returned to the U.S. in a state of "unresponsive wakefulness" and died soon after, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
Citing two anonymous sources who weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly, the newspaper reported that a U.S. envoy sent to bring Warmbier back from North Korea signed an agreement to pay the bill on instructions passed down from President Donald Trump.
The bill remained unpaid by the Treasury Department through 2017, the Post reported. However, it wasn't clear whether it had been paid since then or discussed in preparations for summits between Trump and North Korea ruler Kim Jong Un.
Warmbier, who grew up in the Cincinnati area, had traveled to North Korea with a tour group in late 2015. On Jan. 1, 2016, North Korean officials claimed Warmbier stole a propaganda poster from a hotel. He was stopped as the group was preparing to leave the country and later made an seemingly forced confession to the crime.
North Korean authorities sentenced Warmbier to 15 years of hard labor. What happened to him after that isn't clear. He remained imprisoned for 17 months before he was flown home to Cincinnati for medical treatment. By then, doctors said Warmbier had suffered a severe neurological injury.
Warmbier, 22, died just days after being returned to the U.S.
Emergency medicine doctor Michael Flueckiger, who is the medical director of a company that specializes in medical evacuations, traveled to North Korea to examine Warmbier. He told the Post that he found Warmbier in a room marked "intensive care unit" with a feeding tube in his nose. North Korean doctors had "a thick pile of charts, questions about the lab work, scans and X-rays they had done," the Post reported.
Flueckiger told the Post that he was asked to write a report about his findings, and that he didn't lie, but he was under the impression that it "would cause problems" if he gave them something they couldn't OK. Warmbier had received "really good care" at the hospital, which exclusively treats foreigners, he told the newspaper.
"Would I have lied to get him out of there? Maybe I would have," Flueckiger told the Post. "But I didn’t have to answer that question."
But then North Korean officials handed Flueckiger the $2 million bill, the Post reported. U.S. officials OK'd signing the bill, according to the Post's two anonymous sources.
While North Korea is reportedly billing the U.S. $2 million for Warmbier's medical care, his family has filed and won a lawsuit against the country, which a district court judge finding North Korea owes them about $500 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
After North Korean officials failed to respond to the lawsuit, Judge Beryl Howell signed an order earlier this month allowing the family to collect the money from North Korea, though it's not clear how they would do that. The Associated Press has previously reported that there's no mechanism in place to force the country to pay.
Sen. Rob Portman, of Ohio, said North Korea mistreated Warmbier in many ways.
"No, the United States owes them nothing," Portman said. "They owe the Warmbier family everything."