Chos allegedly smuggled sausages and furniture

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Chos allegedly smuggled sausages and furniture

As authorities continue to look into a range of allegations against Korean Air’s Cho family, including that they used company aircraft to smuggle goods into Korea without paying customs duties, employees are stepping forward to share more stories about the alleged power abuse.

Reports suggest that a dedicated team oversaw the family’s illegally imported goods, most of which arrived via early morning flights when inspections were least stringent.

“The Cho family used some of the planes landing at Incheon International Airport as private delivery vehicles for their purchases,” said one Korean Air employee who requested anonymity.

Flight KE086, which departs from New York for Incheon, was said to have frequently been used to transport the family’s purchases.

According to the employee, five out of 70 or so employees who make up Korean Air’s baggage handling department were responsible for looking after items brought in by the Cho family.

“All sorts of things were brought in from New York, many of them ordered by Cho Hyun-ah,” the employee continued, “including underclothes from [baby clothing brand] Carter’s.”

Cho Hyun-ah, the eldest daughter of the Cho family and president of Hanjin Group’s subsidiary KAL Hotel Network, gave birth to twins in Hawaii in May 2013, a little over a year before she infamously ordered a plane to return to its gate because she was angry with how her macadamia nuts were served in December 2014. The incident, known as “nut rage,” also took place on a KE086 airplane. Hanjin Group, also headed by the Cho family, is the parent company of Korean Air.

The employee also claimed that Cho Hyun-ah flew in foodstuffs including sausages. The current law on prevention of contagious animal diseases stipulates that all animal products must be declared, certified and quarantined before entering Korea.

Another employee came forward, saying that the Cho family also flew in private goods under the guise of company supplies.

“The family sometimes didn’t pay for air cargo, pretending to bring in goods for the company,” the employee said. “Once, furniture and home decor that weighed over 150 kilograms [330.69 pounds] arrived [under such a pretense]. They were then immediately loaded onto a Korean Air van and transferred elsewhere.”

Cho Hyun-ah allegedly ordered a piece of cross-stitch embroidery artwork from Britain while locked up in a detention center in early 2015 for violating aviation safety after the “nut rage” incident.

The Korea Customs Service is currently investigating credit cards used overseas by all five members of the Cho family. They include Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho, his wife Lee Myung-hee, son and Korean Air President Cho Won-tae, Cho Hyun-ah and Cho Hyun-min, who is at the center of the recent scandal that reignited public interest in the family.

Cho Hyun-min is alleged to have thrown water at an advertising company official last month during a marketing meeting for Korean Air. Police have since raided Korean Air’s headquarters in Gangseo District on Thursday, confiscating the mobile phones of the younger sister and another executive present when the altercation occurred. Cho has since been suspended from duty from her senior executive position in Korean Air, though she still serves as vice president of Jin Air, Korean Air’s low-cost affiliate.

As investigations continue, more evidence of acts of aggression claimed to be committed by members of the Cho family are surfacing.

On Thursday, news channel KBS broadcasted a recording submitted by a former Jin Air employee, in which a woman, reportedly Cho, shouts, throws things and threatens to cut employees’ wages during a business meeting. The informant credited the stressful working environment Cho created as their reason for leaving the airline.

An audio file, apparently recorded at Cho Yang-ho and Lee’s house when workers came to remodel it in 2013, also recently surfaced online. A woman, suspected to be Lee, can be heard spewing insults and shrilling, “We have to fire them all.”

Over 500 Korean Air employees have formed an online chat group to share injustices they faced from the Cho family with the objective of improving corporate working culture, insider sources said.


BY OH WON-SEOK, KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]

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