Former Korean Air Vice President Cho Hyun-ah admitted Thursday to illegally hiring Filipino maids as the trials began for her and her mother Lee Myung-hee, who faces the same charges.
Cho, 45, and Lee, 70 -- the daughter and wife of recently deceased Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho -- were indicted for hiring Filipino women as maids after inviting them under the guise of employment at Korean Air between 2013 and early last year, in breach of immigration law.
Cho, who earned global infamy for the “nut rage” incident in 2014, admitted to all the charges, while Lee denied any involvement in the illegal hiring of foreign maids.
“I hired Filipino maids for convenience as I worked while raising twins at this age,” Cho said at the hearing held at the Seoul Central District Court, adding she is deeply reflecting on the wrongdoings she committed without being aware of the relevant laws.
Cho’s lawyer asked for leniency for Cho, citing difficulties Cho has faced as a working mother raising her children alone while going through a divorce, as well as the recent loss of her father who died from chronic pulmonary disease in Los Angeles in April.
“Cho had to work while taking care of her twins at the age of 39. She came to consider hiring a foreigner because she needed someone who could work on weekends as well, not Korean maids who do not work on weekends,” her lawyer said.
Cho also deeply regrets the damage she has done to Korean Air’s staff and those around her in the process, the lawyer added.
Under order by Lee and Cho, Korean Air officials are suspected of having hired maids through a branch in the Philippines and having forged documents to make it look like the Filipinos had been invited to Korea for training at the air carrier’s headquarters in Seoul. This way, Cho and Lee are accused of hiring five and six Filipino maids, respectively, according to the prosecution.
Prosecutors sought a fine of 15 million won ($12,900) for Cho and 30 million won for Korean Air.
Lee, on the other hand, denied any involvement at her own hearing held prior to Cho’s. Lee said she had asked for domestic helpers from the Korean Air, but never ordered it to illegally hire them.
Lee, who was watching Cho at the hearing from spectators’ seat after her own hearing, hugged Cho in the courtroom as the hearing for Cho ended, calling her “baby” and patting her cheek.
“I am sorry … this was my fault. You did well,” Lee told her daughter.
Lee and Cho face other accusations as well.
Lee was indicted in December for verbally and physically abusing her driver, security officers and other employees between November 2011 and April 2017.
Cho’s estranged husband filed a complaint against her earlier this year, accusing her of verbally and physically assaulting him.
Cho already received a 10-year sentence in prison, suspended for two years, on charges of obstructing aviation safety after the 2014 nut rage incident. Cho, who was then-executive vice president of Korean Air, forced the cabin crew chief off a Korean Air plane because she was upset with how her macadamia nuts were served.
The ruling for Cho is to be made at 2 p.m. on June 11. The next hearing for Lee is scheduled for June 13.