American university student Otto Warmbier has been released after 17 months of captivity in North Korea, but he is in a coma and in need of immediate medical treatment, a former U.S. official said Tuesday.
“Otto has been in a coma for over a year now and urgently needs proper medical care in the United States,” said former diplomat and politician Bill Richardson, who has been involved in prior negotiations with North Korea.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed in a statement that Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student from Ohio, was on his way back to the United States. He is expected to arrive home Tuesday evening, after a stop at a U.S. military installation in Sapporo, Japan.
North Korean officials told American envoys that Warmbier fell ill with botulism sometime after his trial in March 2016, according to Warmbier’s family. The North Koreans claim that Warmbier took a sleeping pill and never woke up, remaining in a coma ever since.
Warmbier was serving a 15-year sentence for “hostile acts” against the North Korean state after he allegedly attempted to take down or steal a propaganda banner while on a tour of the country.
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