Cho’s legal team adamant she did not violate aviation safety
A legal defense team for Cho Hyun-ah, the former vice president of Korean Air, denied Monday as her trial opened that she had compromised aviation safety by forcing her Incheon-bound flight back to the airport gate.
They added that the charge only applied when a plane changed its course in the air, not on the ground.
A lawyer representing the 41-year-old Cho also refuted charges against the former executive that she had obstructed an investigation by the Ministry Land, Infrastructure and Transport by forcing crew members to distort their accounts of what really transpired on Dec. 5 on a flight bound for Incheon from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
The arguments by Cho’s defense team run counter to accusations by the prosecutors and have emerged as key points at the start of her trial in the Seoul Western District Court.
The court room was packed with more than 100 spectators and reporters on Monday, a reflection of the high public interest in the proceedings. Wearing a blue prison uniform, Cho bowed at a 90 degree angle to the presiding judge at the start of the hearing.
While accepting the allegation that Cho did force the plane to return to the gate, and offering an apology on her behalf for the trouble she had caused, her lawyer argued, however, that the charge implied that his client had changed the flight route, which by definition would mean “a pathway in the air.”
That in itself, he said, was not applicable in Cho’s case.
Prosecutors though maintained that the KAL heiress had forced the flight to change its route after the plane had already begun moving toward the runway, which therefore constituted a violation of aviation safety.
If convicted, Cho could face up to 10 years in prison.
The hearing Monday was the first in the trial concerning Cho’s conduct on Dec. 5 aboard the plane, during which she ordered the pilot to return the plane to the gate so that she could eject the cabin crew manager. The incident earlier last month erupted after Cho chastised a flight attendant for not serving macadamia nuts in the first class on a plate.
Media reports sparked national outrage and made Cho the object of international ridicule. After her “nut-rage” caused the plane to be delayed by 11 minutes, she faces the prospect of multiple years in jail.
Cho also faces charges that she interfered in an investigation carried out by the Transport Ministry into her conduct by attempting to force crew members to change their accounts in her favor, an accusation her lawyer denied.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [email@example.com]