A US tourist has been sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea. Authorities said the 21-year-old university student had stolen a political banner and was detained as he was trying to leave the country.
North Korea's highest court delivered judgment Wednesday on Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old tourist who allegedly attempted to steal a propaganda banner from a restricted area of his hotel.
The undergraduate who is enrolled at the University of Virginia was convicted and sentenced following a one-hour trial at the country's Supreme Court which found him guilty of subversion.
Warmbier had entered North Korea as part of a New Year tour organized by Young Pioneer Tours, a China-based travel agency. He was arrested when the group was set to return to Beijing on January 2.
North Korea media delivered reports of a comprehensive confession by Warmbier who reportedly said he'd taken the banner as "a trophy" for a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church in his hometown of Wyoming, Ohio.
The church member - a friend of Warmbier's mother - had reportedly promised him a used car worth around $10,000 if he succeeded and a payment of $200,000 to his family if he was detained, the media reports said.
"Since my family is suffering from very severe financial difficulties, I started to consider this as my only golden opportunity to earn money," Warmbier was quoted as saying.
'The worst mistake of my life'
Detained foreigners are often required to make a public, officially-scripted acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Warmbier was photographed visibly distraught and apologizing last month in front of journalists and diplomats in Pyongyang.
His detention comes at a sensitive time. The United States is leading efforts to ramp up international sanctions on North Korea as Pyongyang threatens to further test its nuclear arsenal and long-range rockets.
Warmbier is one of three North Americans detained in North Korea. A 60-year-old Canadian pastor was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor last month on sedition charges.
jar/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)