A US student held in North Korea since early January says he was offered money by a US institution to carry out a “crime” against Pyongyang.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student, acknowledged and apologized during a Monday press conference in Pyongyang for trying to steal a banner containing a political slogan from the hotel where he had been staying.
The US student said that he had been encouraged to take the banner as a trophy for a US church that had offered to pay him for it.
A church member persuaded Warmbier “to take an important political slogan from North Korea in order to weaken the ideological unity and motivation of the North Koreans” and promised to give him a “$10,000 used car” if the “mission” was successful, a North Korean official told CNN on condition of anonymity.
“I committed the crime of taking out a political slogan from the staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel,” Warmbier said.
“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,” he added.
Warmbier was arrested on January 2 before boarding a flight to China. North Korea announced late last month that he had entered the country as a tourist to conduct an anti-state crime with “the tacit connivance of the US government and under its manipulation.”
Several Americans have been held in North Korea in recent years.
In October last year, Pyongyang freed a South Korean national with a US green card after holding him for six months. Also in 2014, Pyongyang released three detained Americans.
North Korea accuses the US of plotting with regional allies to topple its government.