Heather Cho, the daughter of Korean Air Lines Co. Chairman Cho Yang Ho, was sentenced to one year in prison after she was found guilty of usurping a pilot’s authority when she ordered a crew member to deplane during a row over in-flight service.
Her actions were “extremely dangerous and lacking in common sense,” Judge Oh Sung Woo said Thursday in a ruling at Seoul Western District Court. The crew member’s dignity “collapsed under money and hierarchy” after Cho treated him “like a slave,” he said.
Cho, who was standing with hands clasped and wearing a green prison uniform as the ruling was read out, was also found guilty of altering the plane’s flight route. Her lawyer Suh Chang Hee declined to comment on whether Cho will appeal.
The former Korean Air executive’s arrest in December followed a public outcry in South Korea after the incident re- ignited a long-running debate over whether the country’s vaunted chaebol, or family-run conglomerates, hold too much power and influence. Cho’s actions were an example of the “sense of privilege” felt by chaebol families, the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said in a Dec. 9 editorial.
“The executive needs to apologize and reflect on the fact that she had considered the employee a ‘slave’ while physically assaulting him as well,” the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial last week. “Cho’s and Korean Air’s attitude during the court hearing shows that they fail to see the core issue of this problem.”
President Park Geun Hye addressed the issue of meting out justice to business owners in a press conference in January. “We shouldn’t give them special treatment because they are executives, but we shouldn’t discriminate against them in reverse because they are executives,” she said.
Her government has introduced tighter controls on chaebol including a ban on the creation of new cross-shareholdings between affiliates, and fair-trade laws aimed at limiting profits gained by chaebol family members from transactions between group companies.
The Korean Air aircraft had already left the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport for takeoff when the incident occurred. The airline initially downplayed its impact, pointing out that it took no more than two minutes to return to the gate to deplane the crew member. The flight was 11 minutes late when it arrived in Seoul on Dec. 6.
South Korean and overseas media dubbed it ‘nut-rage’ and Cho, who was a passenger in first class on the flight, resigned from all of her positions at Korean Air and other affiliates during the public backlash. Her father apologized to the public for his daughter’s behavior.
This article was written by Sam Kim and Juwon Park from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.