Korean Air heiress could be facing arrest warrant

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Korean Air heiress could be facing arrest warrant

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Park Chang-jin, the head of cabin service, claims he was verbally and physically abused by Cho. [Screen Capture]

The humiliating scandal surrounding Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun-ah seemed to subside somewhat on Friday after she delivered a public apology to express her remorse for her outrageous behavior onboard an Incheon-bound flight, but two separate revelations over the weekend could have her facing a possible arrest warrant by the prosecution.

The 40-year-old daughter of the chairman and CEO of Hanjin Group, which owns Korean Air Lines (KAL), came under fire for the incident, in which she delayed the flight after throwing a fit over the way the macadamia nuts were served in first class.

According to a witness and the head of the cabin service, Cho was violent toward a flight attendant during her in-flight rage, during which she ordered the plane back to a gate at New York’s JFK airport to eject the cabin manager.

“Cho has no authority over the plane’s operation; having the flight return to the airport right before take-off is a grave crime,” said an official with the Seoul West District Prosecutors’ Office. “If claims by the flight attendants that they were verbally and physically abused [by Cho] turn out to be true, the offense would become even more grievous.”

The official added that the rule for issuing an arrest warrant is typically applied to such “in-flight rampages,” noting it is still necessary to verify whether the plane’s return was forced by Cho.

An exclusive report on Sunday by the economic daily Money Today intensified the situation when it stated that Cho had told investigators from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Friday that she drank a couple of glasses of wine on Dec. 5, before boarding the flight to Incheon.

Cho has been a target for outrage and mockery since.

On Sunday morning, in an effort to atone and personally apologize to the junior flight attendant and the cabin manager, Cho visited their residences, leaving behind a memo in their door frames after neither came to the door, according to Korean Air’s public relations team.

Two days before, just hours after Cho made her public apology, the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), a state-run broadcaster, ran an exclusive interview with Park Chang-jin, the head of cabin service.

In the interview, he stated that Cho had used offensive language against him and that she used the corner of the service manual to jab the back side of his hand several times. KBS then zoomed in on a reddened mark on the back of his left hand.

The 44-year-old also claimed that Cho “insulted” him and the female flight attendant by having both of them kneel down in the first class cabin. Cho then pointed fingers at them, forcing them to back up all the way down by the cockpit entrance.

“No one could ever imagine the humiliation and shame [I felt that day] without experiencing it themselves,” Park said.

Since the case went viral, at least five or six KAL employees have been knocking on his door “almost every single day” to “force me to provide false statements [to investigating authorities],” he said.

He also claimed they attempted to coerce him into saying that Cho became angry over the fact that he was not fully aware of the service manual, but that she hadn’t used profane language. The employees also told Park to say that he disembarked from the plane on his own accord.

However, he had earlier given mixed testimonies.

During questioning by prosecutors on Thursday he kept his story pretty much the same, though he told officials from the Transport Ministry that there had been no physical abuse.

The ministry said on Sunday that it would summon him for additional questioning on Monday.

A substantial part of Park’s story coincides with what a 32-year-old witness, who sat in front of Cho that day, told journalists on Saturday after being summoned by the Western District Prosecutors’ Office.

The passenger, also surnamed Park, said that Cho “yelled” at the flight attendant and “shoved” her shoulders.

“Her voice was so loud that other passengers sitting at different sections peeked through the curtain” to see what the commotion was all about, she said.

“When the flight attendant was on her knees flipping through the manual, Cho held her up and pushed her with one hand, all the way to the boarding gate, which was almost three meters away.”

Cho then rolled up the manual and “threw it at the flight attendant,” and later told her to get off the plane, said Park, adding that Cho then looked at the cabinet manager and told him, “It’s your fault because you’re the person in charge, so you should get off the plane.”

When asked if Cho also abused the cabin manager either physically or verbally, Park said she had not witnessed any, but added that a KAL board member had personally called her to “offer what they call an apology.”

The board member reportedly told Park that the company would send her a model airplane and a calendar to apologize for inconveniencing her 14-hour flight, and added that “if the media ever calls you for an interview, say that you’ve decently accepted their apology.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, SEO JI-EUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]
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