Korean Air billionaire's youngest daughter Cho Hyun-min questioned over fruit juice throwing incident

The stony-faced daughter of a Korean billionaire, whose older sister was brought low by the "nut rage" scandal, apologised after allegations that she sprayed a business associate with fruit juice.

Published: 01st May 2018 12:33 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st May 2018 12:34 PM   |  A+A-

Cho Hyun-min, youngest daughter of Korean Air chairman. (AP File Photo)

By AFP

SEOUL: The stony-faced daughter of a Korean billionaire, whose older sister was brought low by the "nut rage" scandal, apologised Tuesday as she reported to police for questioning over allegations she sprayed a business associate in the face with fruit juice.

"I'm really sorry for causing concern," Cho Hyun-min repeatedly told a crowd of journalists outside the Gangseo police station in Seoul, without admitting to any specific actions.

Cho, who police said is accused of using violence and obstructing business, is the daughter of Hanjin Group chairman Cho Yang-ho.

Hanjin is among the country's 15 biggest business groups, owner of flag carrier Korean Air, logistics and transport firms, and with interests in information technology and hotels.

It used to own Hanjin Shipping, once one of the world's biggest shipping firms, which was declared bankrupt last year.

The younger daughter's police interrogation is only the controlling family's latest brush with the law, with a series of scandals making them some of the country's most notorious super-wealthy.

South Korea's economy -- the world's 11th-largest -- is dominated by a series of giant business conglomerates known as chaebols.

In the past, the chaebols contributed to the country's fast economic growth, but as the founders' sons and grandsons took over they expanded into every corner of business, and now stand accused of suffocating smaller companies and hampering innovation.

They have long had murky ties with political authorities -- Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong was jailed last year for his role in the corruption scandal that brought down president Park Geun-hye, although most of his convictions were quashed on appeal.

Many chaebol families retain only a small ownership stake in their companies, but maintain control through complex webs of cross-shareholdings between subsidiaries, and rapid promotions for family members -- some of whose antics have battered the firms' images.

"The Cho family is one of the most vilified chaebol families, with multiple family members implicated in alleged bad behaviour," Chung Sun-sup of online information service chaebol.com told AFP.

'Family misdeeds'

In the most infamous incident, the chairman's elder daughter Cho Hyun-ah made global headlines in 2014 for forcing two flight attendants to kneel and beg for forgiveness after she was served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than a bowl.

She ordered the Seoul-bound flight back to the gate so one of them could be ejected in an incident quickly dubbed "nut rage".

Since the accusations against her sister emerged, hundreds of Korean Air personnel have joined an online chat room to allege Cho family misdeeds against employees and domestic staff.

Police said last week they were investigating allegations that the sisters' mother Lee Myung-hee had herself abused employees verbally and physically.

Korean Air said the company had no comment.

The family are also accused of using Korean Air planes to smuggle luxury goods into the country to avoid import duties.

Chairman Cho Yang-ho -- who last year faced accusations of embezzling company funds, although prosecutors rejected a request for his arrest -- last month apologised for the "immature" behaviour of his daughters, both of whom resigned from their executive posts.

The row could yet impact Korean Air itself, and other conglomerates.

Thousands of petitioners went to the presidential Blue House homepage, urging the government to ban the airline from using "Korean" in its name and to expel Cho Hyun-min, who was born in the US and is an American citizen.

Under South Korean immigration law, foreigners found to have disturbed social order or harmed public safety can be ordered to leave the country.

Former lawmaker Park Won-suk said the Cho family controversies would serve as a "catalyst" for a reform drive.

President Moon Jae-in was elected last year partly on promises to reform the chaebols -- a pledge various politicians have made many times before.

There has been little action so far, but Chung noted that the justice ministry last week introduced a bill to grant minority shareholders a greater voice in appointing board members.

The move was "apparently in sync with mounting public demand for chaebol reform triggered by the Cho case", he said. 

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