A Seoul court on Thursday sentenced Cho Hyun-ah, former vice president of Korean Air, to one year in prison for obstructing aviation safety by interfering with cabin crew members’ duties.
Cho, 40, caused a public uproar by forcing a cabin crew chief to disembark from a flight headed from New York to Seoul on Dec. 5 after he failed to follow 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.
The Seoul Seobu District Court acknowledged in its ruling the charges raised by the prosecution that Cho had violated a law banning passengers from pressuring crew members to deviate from the flight route.
Its verdict clarified that Cho should be held accountable for obstructing aviation safety by abusing her authority.
In addition, the ruling reflected the charges that she physically and verbally assaulted 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 formal trial hearing. He said Cho “hustled a (female) flight attendant with some abusive words.”
Park, 44, said he had also been beaten by the defendant Cho, 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.
While Cho Hyun-ah did not make an official apology to the cabin crew chief, it has been found that she submitted a letter of apology to the district court six times.
The prosecution had sought a three-year prison term for the former company vice president.
Meanwhile, the court also handed down a jail term of eight months to a Korean Air executive director. In addition, a Transportation Ministry official was given a suspended prison term of six months with probation of one year.
The prosecution earlier indicted Korean Air executive director Yeo Woon-jin on charges of destroying evidence related to the case. The 57-year-old was also accused of pressuring the cabin crew chief to minimize the case’s impact.
A Transport Ministry official surnamed Kim was charged with leaking information about the ministry’s probe to the airline.
Kim, 55, had reportedly phoned Yeo about 30 times and sent 10 text messages between Dec. 7 and the day before the ministry’s probe was launched, investigators said. 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.
By Kim Yon-se (firstname.lastname@example.org)