Hanjin matriarch banned from flying, Jin Air could be next

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Hanjin matriarch banned from flying, Jin Air could be next

Lee Myung-hee, wife of Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho and chairwoman of the group’s nonprofit Ilwoo Foundation, has officially been banned from traveling outside the country.

According to Seoul police on Wednesday, the Ministry of Justice has approved its request to impose a travel ban on Lee the previous day.

Lee is currently under police investigation on allegations of assault and obstruction of business. Her case broke after a video of her shoving and berating employees at a construction site in Incheon in 2014 went viral.

Police began a formal investigation into Lee’s case Monday after it talked with victims that appear in the video as well as others that witnessed her violent actions in the past. Some of the victims confirmed that Lee assaulted workers and indicated that they would like her to be punished - a requirement under Korean law.

The police is currently focusing on finding more victims to secure sufficient evidence. Lee has been accused of cursing and beating workers at Hanjin affiliates, constructors remodeling her house and her chauffeur.

After gathering evidence, police will summon Lee for questioning.

As Lee finds herself in real trouble, Hanjin Group released a lengthy press release Wednesday refuting recent allegations related to the chairwoman, among others.

The statement started by apologizing for “some” of the confirmed assault cases. However, when asked what the cases referred to, a spokesperson from the group said, “It is an apology for recent controversies,” and did not mention a specific assault case.

The statement then refuted specific allegations.

For instance, Lee was accused of making hotel cleaners wear helmets with flashlights when working past midnight to save on energy bills.

The group said it is true Lee walked around the hotel at around 3 a.m. in the morning and advised the hotel manager to only use the necessary lights to save energy, but she did not order workers to turn all lights off and work with flashlight on their helmets.

There were 17 other allegations and answers similar to this. How the allegations turn out will depend on how many victims the police manage to find.

While the police have a tight grip on the Cho family matriarch, news surfaced on Tuesday that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is considering stripping Jin Air, Korean Air’s low-cost affiliate, of its business license.

The Transport Ministry’s involvement in the Cho family case picked up steam after it emerged that Cho Hyun-min, a former director of Jin Air, is not actually Korean. She has American nationality and her English name is Cho Emily Lee.

According to Korean aviation law, foreigners are not allowed to be listed on the board of directors of a Korean airline for security reasons. While Cho remained an unregistered senior executive at Korean Air, effectively dodging the legal restrictions, she was officially on the board of directors for the budget airline between 2010 and 2016.

The Transport Ministry is reportedly consulting with a number of law firms to see whether it can officially cancel the business license of Hanjin’s low-cost affiliate.

While the loss of Jin Air would undoubtedly be a huge blow to Hanjin Group, employees that have been at the center of the protest against the Cho family’s power abuse are concerned that they are going to lose out as well.

“Why do the employees have to suffer when all the trouble is made by Cho Emily Lee?” an anonymous employee from Jin Air asked in a secret KakaoTalk chat room that Hanjin employees use to share stories about the owner family’s power abuse.

If the ministry does decide to strip Jin Air of its business license, the 1,900 employees of the low-cost carrier will lose their jobs.

Jin Air share price fell 4.05 percent to close at 30,800 won ($28.50) on Wednesday.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]
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