Korean Air chief indicted for embezzlement

Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho arriving at a court in Seoul on July 5, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - The head of South Korean flag carrier Korean Air - whose family have been embroiled in multiple scandals, including one involving macadamia nuts - was indicted Monday (Oct 15) on charges of embezzling tens of millions of dollars and other offences.

Prosecutors charged Cho Yang-ho with embezzling more than 20 billion won (S$24.8 million) and unfairly awarding contracts to companies controlled by his family members, according to Yonhap news agency.

The super-wealthy owners of chaebols - the sprawling conglomerates that dominate the world's 11th-largest economy - often attract controversy, but a series of scandals have made the Cho family one of the most notorious in South Korea.

Cho is the chairman of Hanjin Group, which includes Korean Air and used to own the now-bankrupt Hanjin Shipping line.

He was also head of the organising committee for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics until stepping down two years before the Games.

The 69-year-old is also accused of taking 152 billion won from the state insurance agency in medical care benefits by illegally running a pharmacy under a borrowed name.

Initially, Cho was accused of evading inheritance tax of around 61 billion won when his father, Hanjin's founder, died in 2002, but prosecutors said the statute of limitations expired in 2014.

The date for Cho's trial was not set and he was not detained ahead of the proceedings.

His two daughters, who held management positions at Korean Air, previously became viral sensations for temper tantrums dubbed the "nut rage" and "water rage" scandals, forcing Cho to issue a public apology and remove them from their posts.

The elder, Cho Hyun-ah, made global headlines in 2014 for kicking a cabin crew chief off a Korean Air plane after she was 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. She was not indicted, as the victim did not want to press charges.

Their mother Lee Myung-hee has been questioned by police several times in connection with allegations of assault against her employees, including cursing, kicking, slapping and even throwing a pair of scissors.

Cho himself has already had brushes with the law, receiving a suspended jail sentence for tax evasion in 2000 and awaiting a separate trial for diverting 30 billion won of company funds for renovating his own house.

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