Korean Air chief indicted for embezzlement

Cho Yang-ho has been charged with embezzling $23.9 million.
Cho Yang-ho has been charged with embezzling $23.9 million.

SEOUL • The head of South Korea's flag carrier Korean Air - whose family members have been embroiled in multiple scandals including one involving macadamia nuts - was indicted yesterday on charges of embezzling tens of millions of dollars and other offences.

Prosecutors charged Cho Yang-ho with embezzling 19.6 billion won (S$23.9 million) and unfairly awarding contracts to companies controlled by his family members, according to Yonhap news agency.

The super-wealthy owners of chaebols - the 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 headed the organising committee for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics until he stepped 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.

Cho was initially 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 had 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, became viral sensations for tantrums dubbed the "nut rage" and "water rage" scandals, forcing Cho to issue a public apology and remove them from their posts.

The elder daughter, 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. The victim did not press charges.

Their mother, Lee Myung-hee, has been questioned by police several times in connection with allegations of assault against her employees.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2018, with the headline Korean Air chief indicted for embezzlement. Subscribe