Immigration begins investigating Cho family

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Immigration begins investigating Cho family

Korean Air’s Cho family is facing another investigation, this time from the immigration authority, over accusations that they illegally hired Filipino housekeepers.

A special investigative team at the Korea Immigration Service under the Ministry of Justice on Friday raided the human resources strategy team at the Korean Air headquarters in Gangseo District, western Seoul.

The allegations surfaced after a post on anonymous corporate whistle-blowing app Blind claimed that the Cho family “prefers hiring housekeepers from the Philippines because they do not understand Korean.” Allegedly the preference for Filipino housekeepers was so that family members could verbally “abuse” the housekeeper without them understanding. The whistle-blower also claimed that a Korean Air branch in the Philippines would recruit housekeepers, and dispatch them to Korea, supposedly as Korean Air trainees.

A former driver for Lee Myung-hee, wife of Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho and chairwoman of the conglomerate’s nonprofit Ilwoo Foundation, also testified in an interview that Lee and Korean Air staff confiscated the passports of Filipino housekeepers so they could prevent them from leaving the country.

Only ethnic Koreans or immigrants through marriage can work as housekeepers in Korea. If it turns out the Chos hired Filipino workers who were not married to Koreans, the family could face prison terms of up to three years and a fine of up to 20 million won ($18,756).

After analyzing the confiscated items, the Justice Ministry plans to summon for investigation the Cho family members and Korean Air employees involved in the recruiting.

Ever since Cho Hyun-min, the chairman’s youngest daughter and former director of budget carrier Jin Air, reignited public rage in April over gapjil, or abuse of power, when she allegedly threw fruit juice and a glass at advertising executives, the family has been under investigation from the police, the Korea Customs Service and the Justice Ministry. Friday’s raid was the sixth.

However, two rounds of raids by the customs regulator of Chairman Cho’s house in Pyeongchang-dong, central Seoul, earlier this month turned up no pricey artwork, even though the family is suspected to have smuggled expensive items through a customs loophole. According to the customs service, three secret spaces in the house - hidden behind bookshelves and piles of clothes - did not contain any suspicious goods.

The family was suspected to have smuggled art since part of the house - the area where Chairman Cho, his wife Lee and youngest daughter Cho Hyun-min live - had been given planning permission to be partly turned into an exhibition space. The Cho couple has used the space as a private art gallery and Ilwoo Foundation, headed by Lee, runs Ilwoo Space, an exhibition hall at the Korean Air building in Seosomun, central Seoul.

“We suspect [the smuggled goods] have already been relocated, which is regrettable,” said Kim Young-moon, commissioner of the Korea Customs Service. “It makes no sense that the secret places remained empty.”

Korean Air released a statement on Sunday regarding the Korea Customs Service probe, saying the gallery was mostly devoted to botanical art, which can hardly be expensive due to its “popular nature.”

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