Monday, February 02, 2015

Prosecutors Seek Three-Year Sentence for Daughter of Korean Air Chairman • Cho Hyun-ah Indicted in January on Charges of Violating Aviation-Safety Laws

The Wall Street Journal

By In-Soo Nam

Updated Feb. 2, 2015 9:37 a.m. ET

SEOUL—Prosecutors on Monday demanded three years in prison for the daughter of Korean Air Lines Co. ’s chairman for her violation in December of aviation-safety laws by changing flight plans as part of an angry protest over cabin service.

“An airplane is deemed in flight the moment the door of the plane is closed and starts moving toward the runway. It’s clear that she violated the law when she ordered a return,” a prosecutor said during the final hearing on the case at the Seoul Western District Court.

Cho Hyun-ah triggered one of South Korea’s biggest backlashes against family-run conglomerates on Dec. 5, when she allegedly assaulted a flight attendant over the way she was served macadamia nuts in the first-class cabin, and made the plane return to the gate in a New York airport just before takeoff to eject the in-flight service chief.

Ms. Cho was indicted last month by prosecutors on charges of violating aviation-safety laws for a delay and change of flight plans. She has also been charged with assault on a plane, coercion and interference with duty.

Ms. Cho, the eldest daughter of Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges except for one—a charge of assault against the flight attendant who had served her the nuts.

At Monday’s testimony, the chief steward, Park Chang-jin, said Ms. Cho treated him and the flight attendant who served her the nuts like “feudal slaves” when she forced them to kneel before her in the first-class cabin.

“She was like a beast that found its prey, gritting its teeth as she became abusive, not listening to what I had to say at all,” Mr. Park told the court, while trying to fight back tears.

Ms. Cho said she regretted treating them harshly on the plane, but defended her actions as the result of her devotion to work and argued that the cabin-crew members had erred in the first place by not following proper procedures.

The “nut rage” incident, as it has been dubbed, has rekindled anger at the sprawling chaebol —a term used to describe South Korea’s powerful family-controlled business empires that have for decades dominated the economy but are increasingly seen as stores of wealth for dynasties with a patchy regard for the law.

During Monday’s court hearing, prosecutors sought a two-year prison term for a Korean Air executive, identified only by his surname Yeo, who has been charged with obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence and coercion after he allegedly tried to persuade cabin-crew members to lie about the incident to government investigators.

Prosecutors also demanded two years in prison for a Transport Ministry official surnamed Kim who has been indicted on a charge of leaking classified information to Mr. Yeo.

Lawyers for Messrs. Yeo and Kim told the court they denied the charges against them.

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