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Korean Air heiress returns home to barrage of criticisms, probe for violence

Cho Hyun-min, the second daughter of the chairman of Korean Air Lines, returned to South Korea on Sunday in the face of mounting controversy over the allegation that she assaulted a manager of a local advertising firm by throwing water at his face.

Cho, a senior vice president at the airline, arrived at Incheon Airport at 5:26 a.m. via the Korean Air flight KE464, from Danang, Vietnam, where she had been on vacation.

At the airport, the 35-year-old Korean Air heiress apologized for her “foolish behavior.” She said she had not thrown water at the face of the ad agency employee, but admitted to pushing him.

Cho Hyun-min, a senior vice president at Korean Air Lines, arrives in Seoul via Incheon International Airport on Sunday morning (Screenshot from MBC coverage)
Cho Hyun-min, a senior vice president at Korean Air Lines, arrives in Seoul via Incheon International Airport on Sunday morning (Screenshot from MBC coverage)

On Friday, local police launched a preliminary inquiry into the Korean Air executive following news reports that she yelled and threw a water bottle at the face of the manager of the firm’s advertising agency during a business meeting on March 16.

Police will reportedly look into whether Cho abused her power or broke any laws in relation to the incidents cited by the media.

Adding to the allegation of assault was a report on Saturday by Ohmynews, which released an audio clip in which a woman, presumed to be Cho, is heard yelling and verbally abusing a company employee.

Cho is the sister of Cho Hyun-ah, who was jailed in 2014 over the infamous “nut rage” incident in which she ordered a taxiing aircraft back to the gate in New York because she was dissatisfied with the way a flight attendant had served her macadamia nuts in a first-class cabin.

The case had highlighted the privileges and abuse of power by scions of Korea’s family-run conglomerates that dominate the economy. It had also greatly tarnished the image of Hanjin Group, which owns Korean Air Lines.

The latest incident involving Cho Hyun-min is viewed here as another case of gap-jil -- a Korean term referring to the abuse of power by someone against a person in a weaker position -- involving the Cho family.

According to Korean Air, Cho Hyun-min was upset at the advertising agency’s manager, as he had failed to properly answer her questions regarding the airline’s advertising project for the UK market.

The company acknowledged the incident but denied accusations of assault. It said that Cho had thrown the water bottle on the floor, causing some of the water to splash out, but that she did not hurl any water at the employee’s face.

Although Cho on Thursday issued a public apology for her “foolish actions” via a Facebook post, public reception toward the Korean Air executive remains icy.

Over the past few days, Korean citizens have filed dozens of petitions calling on the Blue House to severely punish the Korean Air executive’s actions.

The level of public condemnation further escalated upon the release of the audio clip on Saturday.

In the voice recording, the woman said to be Cho screams and uses abusive language -- including curse words -- against a high-ranking employee at Korean Air, according to the news report.

Korean Air said it could not confirm whether the woman in the recording is in fact Cho.

The allegations against Cho initially surfaced through Blind, a mobile app used in Korea through which employees can write and share anonymous posts about work grievances.

Korean Air Lines’ Chairman Cho Yang-ho has yet to officially comment on the recent incident involving his younger daughter.

By Sohn Ji-young (