Court rejects arrest call for Korean Air matriarch

Lee Myung Hee, the wife of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang Ho, leaving a police station in Seoul yesterday, after a court denied a police request to detain her over charges of verbal and physical violence against chauffeurs and other people under her co
Lee Myung Hee, the wife of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang Ho, leaving a police station in Seoul yesterday, after a court denied a police request to detain her over charges of verbal and physical violence against chauffeurs and other people under her control.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL • A Seoul court has turned down a request from prosecutors to arrest the matriarch of the troubled Korean Air dynasty over assault charges, sparking public anger.

Lee Myung Hee, the wife of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang Ho, was released from police custody late on Monday after the Seoul Central District Court refused to issue an arrest warrant for her.

It was a rare piece of good news for the family, who have found themselves the object of public anger following a series of scandals.

Lee's two daughters, who held management positions at South Korea's national carrier, became viral sensations for temper tantrums which were dubbed the "nut rage" and "water rage" scandals online.

Older daughter Cho Hyun Ah made global headlines in 2014 for kicking a cabin crew chief off a Korean Air plane after being served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than a bowl. She later served a short prison sentence.

Earlier this year, her younger sister Cho Hyun Min was accused of throwing a drink at an advertising agency manager's face in a fit of rage during a business meeting.

Mr Cho issued an apology over the "immature" behaviour of his offspring and removed his two daughters from their management roles.

The authorities have since launched a flurry of official probes into the family's reported abuse of workers, as well as allegations of smuggling and violations of immigration law.

Cho Hyun Ah was questioned for 15 hours until early yesterday by the tax authorities as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations she used Korean Air flights to smuggle foreign luxuries.

Lee, 69, faces multiple allegations of assault against drivers and housekeepers from her personal staff as well as construction workers renovating her home and building a Korean Air-affiliated hotel. A video from last month shows a woman, reportedly Lee, shoving a female construction worker and throwing documents on the ground.

But the court said there was a low risk of Lee fleeing or seeking to destroy evidence, and that the charges were disputable. This led to a torrent of criticism posted online and on the presidential Blue House website.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2018, with the headline 'Court rejects arrest call for Korean Air matriarch'. Print Edition | Subscribe