North Korea presented the detained American student Otto Frederick Warmbier in front of the country’s media, a month after announcing his arrest. Warmbier was accused of trying to steal a North Korean banner with a political slogan that was hanging on the wall of his hotel in Pyongyang, a move that is considered a crime in the reclusive country.
On Monday, Warmbier was seen in a press conference, where he confessed to stealing the banner from a staff-only section of the hotel and apologized for it. He said he took the banner as a trophy for an Ohio church which offered him money for it, the Associated Press reported. A North Korean official with knowledge about the detention told CNN that Warmbier held the press conference from the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang “at his own request.”
“I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel,” Warmbier said, in the televised address, adding: “I apologize to each and every one of the millions of the Korean people and I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated.”
Warmbier said he was pushed to commit the “hostile act” by a member from an Ohio church, a secret university organization and the CIA.
“My reward for my crime was so much smaller than the rewards that the Z Society and the Friendship United Methodist Church get from the United States Administration,” Warmbier said.
Warmbier, 21, is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia and reportedly entered North Korea as a tourist. Announcing his arrest last month, the country said he conducted an anti-state crime with “the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation.” The U.S. State Department said it knew about media reports of a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea but did not comment further on the situation “due to privacy considerations.”
The CNN report added that it was not clear if Warmbier was forced or coerced to speak. During the address, he was seen sobbing and pleading for forgiveness.
“I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country. I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life,” Warmbier said, according to CNN.
The North Korean official also told CNN Warmbier wore his “quiet shoes,” which he got from the U.S., on Jan. 1 and entered the staff-only section to steal the banner. He had planned to conceal it by folding it up on a thin rectangular metal sheet and hiding it in his suitcase. The official added that Warmbier also browsed the internet to study different North Korean political slogans.
“The slogan was bigger than he had thought. So he couldn't take it away and turned it upside down and deserted (it) on the floor when he had pulled it from the hangers,” the official told CNN. The official also said the Ohio church member promised Warmbier a $10,000 used car if the mission was successful.
Most tourists visiting North Korea are Chinese but the Kim Jong Un-led country also attracts about 6,000 people from Western countries annually, Reuters reported. Pyongyang has been known to detain several tourists from Western countries on charges of spying and the U.S. State Department strongly recommends U.S. citizens against travel to North Korea.