The prosecution on Monday called for the court to sentence Cho Hyun-ah, former vice president of Korean Air, to three years in prison on charges of obstructing aviation safety and coercing cabin crew staff to make false statements over the so-called “nut-rage” incident.
Cho, 40, had caused public uproar by forcing a cabin crew chief to disembark from a flight from New York to Seoul on Dec. 5 after not following the carrier’s protocol on serving macadamia nuts. The de facto heiress of the flag carrier was found to have ordered the taxiing plane to return to the gate.
A prosecutor stressed during the trial hearing at the Seoul Seobu District Court that Cho should be held accountable for hampering aviation safety in abuse of her authority.
The prosecution is pushing several other charges against Cho, including obstruction of the staff’s duties.
A key issue is whether the court will accept prosecutors’ argument that she violated the law, which bans passengers from pressuring crew members to deviate from the flight route.
Further, Cho faces charges of physically and verbally assaulting a female flight attendant as well as the cabin crew chief.
Park Chang-jin, the cabin manager who had been pressured off the flight, backed up the charges during his testimony in the final trial, saying Cho “hustled a (female) flight attendant with some abusive words.”
Park, 44, said he had also been beaten by the ex-vice president, adding that both Cho and her father Cho Yang-ho, the chairman of Korean Air and its parent Hanjin Group, had yet to apologize to him over the nut rage incident.
The Hanjin Group chief -- appearing as a witness in last week’s court hearing for his daughter -- promised that Park would not suffer any occupational disadvantages.
Flight crew manager Park resumed his duties aboard a domestic flight from Gimpo to Busan on Feb. 1.
Defendant Cho argued that she had not noticed that the plane was taxiing, adding that she did not order its return to the gate.
Cho pointed the blame at the female flight attendant, claiming that she failed to abide by the manual when serving passengers.
Cho admitted to assaulting the female attendant, but denied assaulting cabin manager Park.
Judges said they would deliver a verdict for the defendant Cho within a month.
Meanwhile, investigators said they would conduct an additional scrutiny into the Transport Ministry over suspicions that public servants took special favors from Korean Air. Some ranking officials were accused of having their flight seats upgraded regularly for free.
The prosecution also indicted a Korean Air executive director surnamed Yeo Woon-jin on charges of destroying evidence from the case. The 57-year-old was also accused of threatening the chief cabin crew member to minimize the impact of the case.
An official from the Transportation Ministry surnamed Kim was also charged for leaking information about the ministry’s probe to the airliner.
Kim had reportedly phoned Yeo about 30 times and exchanged 10 text messages between Dec. 7 and the day before the ministry’s probe was launched, said investigators. The civil servant, a close confidant of Yeo, was later found to have worked at Korean Air for 15 years as a flight attendant and chief purser.
The prosecution sought two years in jail for Yeo and Kim, respectively.
By Kim Yon-se (email@example.com