Otto Warmbier in North Korea
Otto Warmbier in North Korea Reuters

The North Korean regime dismissed as "groundless" claims that it had caused the death of US college student Otto Warmbier by torturing him during his 17-month incarceration in the country, Reuters reported.

The University of Virginia student had been arrested by North Korean officials last year and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, after he was charged with trying to take a propaganda banner from an area reserved for North Korean staff and forbidden to foreigners at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, where he was staying as part of a New Year’s tour group.

He was returned to the US last week in a comatose state, suffering from severe brain damage. Originally, the Korean government said he was suffering from botulism, but medical personnel said he had none of the symptoms of that serious disease.

On Monday, his family announced that he had died. His funeral was held in his hometown of Wyoming, Ohio Thursday morning.

North Korean state news on Friday cited a foreign ministry spokesman of the regime as saying that North Korea did not know the cause of Warmbier’s death.

"The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week just after his return to the US in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well,” the spokesman claimed.

He said that North Korea had given "medical treatments and care with all sincerity" to a person who was "clearly a criminal.”

"Although Warmbier was a criminal who committed a hostile act against [North Korea], we accepted the repeated requests of the present US administration and, in consideration of his bad health, sent him back home on humanitarian grounds," the spokesman said.