A University of Virginia student, detained in North Korea for allegedly trying to steal a political banner from the hotel he was staying in, confessed to his crimes at a press conference on Monday.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, a second-year business major, was taken into custody on Jan.2 just as he was about to board a plane and leave the country. The confession was his first public appearance since then.
"I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel,” the 21-year-old said, reading from a written statement. "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."
North Korea accuses Warmbier of surfing the Internet to study different DPRK political slogans and plotting to steal one by folding it up on a thin rectangular metal sheet, according to CNN. Bizarrely, they also allege he was encouraged to commit the "hostile act" by a purported member of an Ohio church, a secretive university organization, and well, 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," the student continued.
Warmbier was reportedly visiting the country with Young Pioneer Tours, an agency specializing in travel to the North, and had been staying at the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang.
"I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country,” he added. “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.”
As the DPRK’s story goes, a member of the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming encouraged Warmbier "to take an important political slogan from North Korea in order to weaken the ideological unity and motivation of the North Koreans." The student was promised a "$10,000 used car" if the "mission" was successful.
The officials also claim Warmbier had ties to Z Society, a secretive philanthropic organization at UVA that paints "Z" around university grounds and has links to the CIA.
It isn’t clear if the detainee was forced or coerced to speak. Although, since he was seen sobbing and pleading for forgiveness as he read from a piece of paper, his arrest seems more like an attempt to use detained U.S. citizens as political pawns than an elaborate international controversy to steal a banner hanging in a hotel lobby.
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