US student held in N. Korea 'admits to severe crimes'

Mr Warmbier attending a news conference in Pyongyang yesterday. He has been detained in North Korea since early January for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel.
Mr Warmbier attending a news conference in Pyongyang yesterday. He has been detained in North Korea since early January for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • An American student held in North Korea since January was detained for trying to steal a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to "severe crimes" against the state, the North's official media has said.

University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, 21, who was on a five-day tour of North Korea with a group of 20, was detained before boarding his flight to China over an unspecified incident at his hotel, his tour agency said in January.

"I committed the crime of taking out a political slogan from the staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel," the North's KCNA news agency quoted Mr Warmbier as saying. CNN showed a video of a sobbing Mr Warmbier saying: "I have made the worst mistake of my life, but please act to save me."

He said a "deaconess" at the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, had offered him a used car worth US$10,000 (SS$14,000) if he could present the church with the slogan as a "trophy" from North Korea, KCNA quoted him as saying.

The woman also said the church would pay his mother US$200,000 if he was detained and did not return, KCNA also quoted him as saying.

According to KCNA, Mr Warmbier also said he was encouraged in his act by a member of an elite philanthropic organisation at his university.

The senior pastor at the church told CNN that he did not know the person identified by Mr Warmbier, and said he was not a member of the congregation.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'US student held in N. Korea 'admits to severe crimes''. Print Edition | Subscribe