Former Korean Air Executive Facing Criminal Charges Over “Nut Rage” Incident

The former Korean Air executive who resigned in the wake of reports that she’d reprimanded a flight’s crew for improperly serving macadamia nuts and ordered an employee off the plane, causing a 20-minute delay, is now facing criminal charges related to the incident.

Cho Hyun-ah, the daughter of Korean Air Lines’ chairman Cho Yang-ho, was the vice president in charge of cabin services at the airline, before her resignation and subsequent apology over the “nut rage” incident.

The New York Times reports that Cho was indicted today on criminal charges of violating aviation safety regulations and conspiring to cover up the incident. The controversy sparked tempers in the nation from critics who pointed to the episode as yet another example of South Korea’s elite upper class of family-controlled businesses behaving badly.

Prosecutors allege that the executive verbally and physically abused the flight attendants in first-class on the flight bound for South Korea from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The issue involved serving macadamia nuts in a bag, instead of on a silver plate as the rules required.

Cho allegedly berated the cabin chief for 20 minutes and ordered the plane to return to the gate to boot the worker in question.

“The unprecedented turnaround of the plane undermined the credibility of Korean Air and the national image of South Korea,” the prosecutors said in a statement.

Another Korean Air executive was indicted along with Cho, accused of coercing Korean Air officials to delete an email regarding the incident and lie to government investigators to keep Cho out of trouble. A Transport Ministry official is also being charged for allegedly illegally briefing that other executive on the confidential details of the office’s investigation.

When the media picked up the story at first, Korean Air said it was “natural” for Cho to chastise the attendants because that was part of her job, notes the New York Times, At the same time, the Transport Ministry announced that it hadn’t found any evidence that Cho had been physical with the staff and that Korean Air hadn’t tried to cover the incident up.

However, the attendant who was kicked off the plane said in news interviews that the executive made him and another attendant get on their knees, and that she hit him on the hand with a plastic folder of in-flight service manuals.. He claims that she pushed the other flight attendant against a wall, and that airline officials had pressured him to tell a different, less incriminating tale to investigators.

In fact, he said investigators with the Transport Ministry were so obliging, they let Korean Air executives monitor his questioning and throw in their own queries as well.

The ministry has since said that its probe wasn’t on the up and up and was unfair, points out the NYT, disciplining eight investigators involved.

Former Korean Air Executive Indicted Over ‘Nut Rage’ Incident [New York Times]