WASHINGTON (CN) — The parents of Otto Warmbier — whom North Korea arrested and tortured for stealing a poster, then repatriated insensate to die in the United States — sued North Korea for wrongful death Thursday, complicating the Trump administration’s recent approaches to the world’s most isolated country.
Cynthia and Frederick Warmbier accuse Kim Jong Un’s “rogue” regime of torturing their 22-year-old son to death, in their Thursday lawsuit against the Democratic People’s Public of Korea, through its Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, in Pongyang.
The Warmbiers are represented by Benjamin Hatch and Richard Cullen with McGuire Woods, of Norfolk, Virginia.
The 22-page lawsuit describes what happened Otto Warmbier during his 17 months in North Korean prisons after a 5-day tour of Pyongyang in 2016, where he was arrested and forced to confess to being a spy.
Warmbier was deported from North Korea, insensate, in June 2017, and quickly died.
A University of Virginia student, and homecoming king and salutatorian of his 2013 high school class, Otto returned home in a coma.
“Otto was blind and deaf,” his parents say in the complaint. “He had a shaved head, a feeding tube coming out of his nose, was jerking violently and howling, and was completely unresponsive to any of their efforts to comfort him.
“They also noticed that his once straight teeth were now misaligned and had been forced into abnormal positions, particularly in the front of his mouth,” the lawsuit states.
Doctors told Otto’s parents son would not recover from severe brain damage caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, so they took him off life support.
North Korea has denied wrongdoing, claiming that Otto contracted botulism, after which he was given a sleeping pill, but that medical exams found no evidence to support claims that Otto was held hostage and tortured for political purposes.
But the Warmbiers cite North Korea’s “longstanding and consistent abuse and mistreatment of American detainees and other political prisoners” in blaming Kim’s regime for Otto’s death.
“North Korea caused Otto’s severe and unrecoverable brain damage, and placed Otto in a condition where he could not survive on his own,” it says.
Otto’s parents seek to hold Kim’s regime liable for Otto’s death under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows Americans to pursue claims in U.S. courts against foreign states designated as state sponsors of terror.
The Trump administration so designated North Korea in November 2017.
The lawsuit comes as diplomatic tensions with North Korea have thawed after then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s meeting with Kim in North Korea over Easter weekend, just before President Donald Trump said he would meet with Kim late in May or early June.
The highly anticipated summit will come after Kim announced last week that he would close down his main nuclear site and stop testing nuclear weapons.
That hopeful announcement was vitiated Thursday by reports that Kim’s repeated nuclear tests in and around and under his preferred site had left the place unusable.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether it has concerns about the timing of the lawsuit.
Fred Warmbier said: “Otto was taken hostage, kept as a prisoner for political purposes, used as a pawn and singled out for exceptionally harsh and brutal treatment by Kim Jong Un. Kim and his regime have portrayed themselves as innocent, while they intentionally destroyed our son’s life. This lawsuit is another step in holding North Korea accountable for its barbaric treatment of Otto and our family.”
The Warmbiers seek punitive damages for wrongful death, assault and battery, survival benefits, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.