Nutty Korean Air Executive Indicted, Could Face Up To 15 Years In Jail

Filed Under: Korean Air, Media

Here’s your weekly update about Heather Cho, the nutty Korean Air executive who in December had an A380 bound for Seoul Incheon returned to the gate after she was displeased with the way she was served nuts. This story just took a turn for the whole-lot-more interesting, as she has now been indicted and could face up to 15 years in jail.


To start, here are my previous posts in the saga:

Last week I wrote about how she was being detained while her case was being heard, due to the cover ups by some Korean Air and government officials.

She has now been indicted on five charges. Via The Washington Post:

Cho was indicted on five charges, including two of violating aviation safety laws by ordering a deviation in the route of the plane and by assaults that interfered with the safe navigation of the plane. The other three are for coercion and obstruction in trying to minimize the incident. Lawyers said the charges could carry as much as 15 years in jail time.

Another Korean Air executive, identified only by his surname Yeo, was indicted for destruction of evidence, coercion and obstruction.

“The Korean Air executives have obstructed the government investigation from the beginning by making false statements and forging evidence,” Kim said.

The NY Times has some more info on the other Korean Air executive who was apparently trying to cover up the scandal:

Indicted along with Ms. Cho on Wednesday was a Korean Air executive, identified by the family name Yeo, who was accused of coercing Korean Air officials to delete an email on what happened on Dec. 5 and to lie to government investigators to protect Ms. Cho. Prosecutors also indicted a Transport Ministry official on charges of illegally briefing Mr. Yeo on the confidential details of the official inquiry.

Prosecutors also said they were investigating allegations that ministry officials have regularly asked Korean Air to upgrade their seats when traveling abroad — a practice civic groups have said amounts to bribery.

On Wednesday, the prosecutors said Ms. Cho had ordered Korean Air officials to hush up the scandal. “What did I do wrong?” she was quoted as asking Mr. Yeo.

Around the same time, Ms. Cho’s younger sister, Cho Hyun-min — a Korean Air executive in charge of corporate communications — sent a text message to Ms. Cho, vowing “revenge” against unspecified enemies of the family, according to investigators. (She later apologized for her “immature” behavior.)

The NY Times also has some more info about what the claims of the purser on the flight:

But Mr. Park, the attendant who was kicked off the plane, described damning details during news interviews. He said that Ms. Cho had made him and a junior flight attendant who had served the nuts apologize on their knees and that she had also hit his hand with a plastic folder of in-flight service manuals and pushed the other flight attendant against a wall. He also said that Korean Air officials had pressured him to give Transport Ministry investigators a less incriminating version of what had happened on Dec. 5, adding that the investigators appeared to cooperate with Korean Air’s attempt to minimize the event by letting its executives monitor his questioning and even ask questions themselves.

As far as the purser goes, do we know if he’s still flying with Korean Air? On one hand I imagine he has the greatest job security in the world given that I don’t think they’d want to accuse him of anything at this point. At the same time, I can’t imagine he’s very popular with management (while I’m sure he’s a superstar among employees).

While Ms. Cho could face up to 15 years in jail, any guesses as to how much time she’ll actually end up serving? Do her five charges seem fair?

  1. You know the old adage that the cover-up is worse than the initial crime? I’d bet that’s what’s happening here. Had the cover-up not occurred, I don’t think she’d be in as much trouble as she is (although the assault charges might by themselves be problematic in that regard). And while 15 years in prison seems rather harsh to me, I don’t have any sympathy for her.

  2. No sympathy for her whatsoever. About time this spoiled brat, who thinks she and her family are above the laws, learnt a lesson.

  3. Honestly I don’t feel that bad because what would’ve happened to a “normal” pax had the same events occured? Though I find a potential 15 years a tad harsh, I do think so time may be warranted again given the fact a “normal” pax would have it a lot worse.

  4. I have to agree with Brian L. There are five charges. Only two are for the actual incident. The higher math tells us that the remaining three will carry more weight than the other two. In terms of the questions at the end, there are very rare cases in which it is just jail time up for debate when people get the entire time. Even here in the US, there are cases where people could serve upwards of 50 years in prison and never have to serve more than 10. Not sure how South Korea’s judicial system works, but my thinking is that she will get less than 10 years. For maximum punishments under 20 years, at least here in the US, when a reduced sentence is given there is very rarely probation, so that is my standing. In terms of whether or not it is fair is hard to say. Like you have mentioned in previous articles, South Korea is a totally different culture, and it is hard to get a good perspective on it unless you experienced it. Here, nothing like this would have ever happened, because of our culture. The fact that it did happen shows the differences, and there will be further differences in the charges and during the case. Their definition of fair may be on the completely opposite end of the spectrum of ours, so that is a point where I don’t think anybody who is not from South Korea can get it right.

  5. She handled things badly. Her original complaint was correct, there was very ultimately little negative consequence for her actions (a delay of a few minutes). Unquestionably the flight shouldn’t have returned to the gate, and the offending crew member shouldn’t have been offloaded.

    The best possible outcome here isn’t jail time, or unemployment. The best thing, what I’d love to see, is for her to be put in charge of inflight for United, American, or Delta.

  6. If I assaulted multiple cabin crew and prevented a commercial aircraft from departing as scheduled and forced a return to the airport while demanding the staff bow down as I threw a fit I’d could easily see the punishment being in the range of fifteen years. It may be harsh but it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise. Why should this spoiled tantrum throwing princess be let off the hook when anyone else would have the book thrown at them? Hopefully this sort of response will become more common over time so that other corporate princes and princesses think twice before abusing their power.

  7. Lucky,

    Since the family own the airline, how easy would it be to sneak her out of the country on one of their flights? To a country with no Visa requirements and or extradition treaty… The family must be weighting on this option don’t you think?

  8. I will be very surprised if she even spends one day in jail. There’s no way that happens in a country like Korea, where money can buy you a lot more than it can in the states. She is the heir for one of the most well known Korean families and outside of Samsung and maybe LG, the most recognized Korean brand in the world.

  9. Gary Leff says: “The best thing, what I’d love to see, is for her to be put in charge of inflight for United, American, or Delta.”

    You’d love even more aircraft to be delayed, even more rampant corporate abuse, even more evidence destroying cover-ups, and even more animosity between management and staff? You sound every bit as nutty and detached as Cho Hyun-ah.

  10. DoI think she was right in calling out the person yes, but not to the extent that she did it. When I’m flying first class yes I expect my nuts to be served in a china bowl not in a packet.

  11. @Sergio, you think the family would risk further public outcry by avoiding the law? This whole situation is about how much power this family has and the abuse of power. There’s no way they would sneak her out.

  12. Seems like someone in First Class would have seen the incident. The seats are relatively open.

  13. Like @Luis said, I would be genuinely surprised if she spends a single day in jail. This is a show being put on for the masses.

  14. She lost her job, she disgraced her family and her country.

    She made a mistake. The incident on the plane doesn’t bug me too much. If she lied to investigators, that is more serious.

    Fine her. Make her pay restitution to the other passengers and the crew. But jail time for a first offender of a non-violent crime doesn’t do anyone any good.

    Have a heart. Forgive her. She may be a bitch, but sending her to jail (especially for multiple years) is cruel and costly.

    Forgiveness is more important than retribution.

  15. @Steve – There is a difference between forgiveness and mercy. I will gladly give her the former, but none whatsoever of the latter.

  16. Long term, if the sentiments on this board prevail, all airlines will be like United.

    It was ironic that right after Lucky posted his preferred management technique on how to hand
    T the situation,he had to report that it did not seem to work on his Sao Paolo flight with the words taped in the galley, nor at LAX, and not on the flight to Hawaii and in fact never in any US airline.

    But hey persisting in delusions is our God given right!

    Lucky and this board know a lot about scoring award tickets, but driving performance within an organization, not so much

  17. @Brian L. – As @mangoceviche said, she is already in jail.

    @Travelling Rabbit – Yes, a Korean lady in her 30’s was sitting right ahead and she witnessed the whole thing. After arrival, she called the airline to complain and was urged by the airline to sugarcoat her testimony. In return, she got a model plane and a calendar as compensation (I’m NOT joking!). This really pissed her off, and that’s when she decided to go to the media and tell them what she witnessed. She witnessed Cho actually pin one of the flight attendants against the wall.

  18. Sorry, I meant to address the first part of my reply to @Greg and not @Brian L. Apologies for any confusion.

  19. @Luis, I think that you underrate my country. We are not that corrupted. I agree that some big corruptions were made from Chabul like Samsung and LG, but they also went to the jail, even if they are the boss of company(Well, I also know that most of them were granted as an amnesty in the second year)

    She will go to the jail, but I cannot estimate her prison period.

  20. This seems like the circus Korean prosecutors like to trot out every couple of years to show that people at Chaebols are not above the law. In reality, she’ll be out of prison in less than 2 years, and in the long term nothing will really change in Korea. The Chaebol families will still act with impunity and think they are above the law.

    It seems this is also more about protecting “brand Korea” than anything else (can’t have foreigners thinking there is anything bad about riding the Korean wave, after all).

    At least this is more entertaining than your average Korean TV drama, most of which are actually rather shitty.

  21. Seems like it’s not the actual offense, but the efforts to “coerce”, cover up and bully employees into lying to investigators is what’s going to ultimately screw the airline and Cho, as it should. Now, if she did physically assault the purser and attendant, then she definitely deserves prison. I don’t care how small she is or what she hit them with. If any other first class, business class or economy passenger smacked a crew member upside the head with a plastic folder or shoved one up against the wall, they’d be telling their story from a prison cell and facing extremely harsh charges and sentences. It doesn’t matter how much she’s already been humiliated. If you committ a crim that involves the physical assault of another human being, you should be punished the way anyone else would…and anyone else would receive jail time.

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