An American college student detained in North Korea has publicly confessed to attempting to steal a political banner from a Pyongyang hotel.
Otto Warmbier appeared before a group of domestic and foreign journalists Monday in the North Korean capital, accompanied by North Korean guards.
The 21-year-old University of Virginia student, who was visiting North Korea with a tour group, was arrested last month before boarding a plane out of the country. He has been charged with committing a hostile act against the state, with the help of the United States.
Warmbier told reporters he removed a political slogan from a staff-only area of the hotel where the group was staying to give to a member of his church who wanted the banner to display as a “trophy.”
He said the church member offered him a used car worth $10,000 and told him that if he was caught and unable to return, Warmbier’s mother would get $200,000.
“I understand the severity of my crime, and I have no idea what sort of penalty I may face, but I am begging to the Korean people and government for my forgiveness. And I am praying to the heavens so that I may be returned home to my family,” he said during the statement.
Pyongyang has not said what possible punishment Warmbier may face.
North Korea has often detained Americans and other foreign citizens on trumped up charges.
The detainees are usually brought before foreign journalists to read statements confessing to crimes committed against the dictatorial regime. The statements are widely considered to have been coerced, and detainees often recant their confessions after their release.
Analysts say Pyongyang often tries to use the detainees as bargaining chips with the West.
Tour groups sponsor regular visits to the North for sightseers curious to see what life is like under the repressive regime.
The U.S. and Canadian governments both advise against travel to North Korea.