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2018-04-16 11:35
With 'nut rage' sisters, Korean Air is nowhere to be seen
Kim Jin-sook, a Minjung Party candidate for Seoul mayor post, left, speaks to reporters before submitting a complaint to the prosecution over Korean Air marketing executive Cho Hyun-min's misbehavior at the Seoul Central Prosecutors' Office in Seocho-gu, Seoul, Friday. / Yonhap

Public calls for stripping Korean Air of national carrier status

By Nam Hyun-woo


Cho Hyun-min
Another case of a Korean Air “heiress rage” is casting doubts on the ethics of the Cho family, with observers noting that their tantrums are one of the major risks to the flag carrier's reputation.

Cho Hyun-min, a marketing executive at Korean Air and the second daughter of Chairman Cho Yang-ho, returned home from what appears to be an overseas vacation Sunday, several days after she angered the public over allegations that she yelled and threw a water bottle at a manager of an advertising agency during a business meeting at her office in Seoul March 16.

Upon her arrival, she briefly told MBC, a local broadcasting service, “I was foolish and I am sorry,” denying the allegation by saying she threw water on the floor, not in the face of the manager.

Korean Air said it has not decided whether to hold a press conference for Cho.

The reason she stresses the floor seems to be a tactic to avoid an assault charge, as police said Friday they were investigating the allegation. Also, Kim Jin-sook, a Minjung Party candidate for the Seoul mayor post, filed a complaint against Cho with the prosecution on the day.

“Assault means an exertion of tangible force, thus there is plenty of possibility of incurring an assault charge even though there was no direct contact,” said Son Soo-ho of law firm Hyunjai. “However, the specific action of throwing will decide whether it constitutes an assault charge or not.”

Public sentiment against her is getting worse after the allegation was raised.

Various petitions have been filed on the Cheong Wa Dae website, asking for punishment of Cho or calling for stripping Korean Air of its flag-carrier status and use of its name.” As of Sunday 3 p.m., more than 18,000 agreed to a petition filed by username “naver-***,” calling for the carrier to be renamed without using “Korea.”

A petition with more than 200,000 signatures must receive a direct answer from the presidential office or minister of the related ministry.

On Saturday, an internet news outlet OhmyNews revealed a recorded clip of a woman using foul language and screaming at another, saying she was very upset.

OhmyNews reported that it received the 4 minutes 20 seconds recording from an employee who said “the woman was Cho at the Korean Air headquarters” and such verbal abuse has been very common for those who work with her.

Korean Air said it couldn't identify the woman in the recording as Cho.

There are other unconfirmed allegations about Cho's inappropriate attitude or behavior, such as her throwing a PR agent's business card on the floor saying she did not accept cards from “an understrapper.” She also ordered her employees to set up “a birthday committee” to prepare gifts and parties to celebrate her birthday.

Korean Air also said it cannot confirm those allegations.

Such family misbehavior is not new to Korean Air.

In 2014, Cho Hyun-ah, or Heather Cho, Hyun-min's elder sister, was indicted for violating aviation security and related laws after the "nut rage" case, in which she ordered her flight back to a gate in New York because she was upset about the way her nuts were served on the plane.

Cho was sentenced to one year in prison, but was freed after five months after an appeals court cleared her of interfering with an air route.

Cho Won-tae, Hyun-min's elder brother and Korean Air president, also has a history with the police because of misbehavior.

In 1999, he was suspended from indictment after being embroiled in a hit-and-run accident. In the following year, he hit a police officer with his car.

In 2005, police investigated him for assaulting and verbally abusing a senior citizen in her 70s, and for cursing a civic group protestor seven years later.

As controversies over the owner family's misbehavior come one after another, observers say their temper is almost a risk to Korean Air.

“From a broader view, we don't see such a controversy as a major risk that can undermine a company's value seriously,” a Seoul-based analyst said, asking not to be named. “But when this kind of issue continues to come up, it affects investor sentiment negatively.”

On Thursday, last week, Korean Air ended at 33,550, down 6.55 percent from a session earlier, with more than $200 million of its market cap vanishing in a single day.

Analysts attributed the drop to the hike in oil prices amid concerns on international dispute over Syria, citing other air carriers which showed 2 to 4 percent drops. However, Korean Air and its affiliates showed a sharper decline after the investors interpreted Cho's “water rage” is negative for its corporate reputation.

Individual investors are also angry about the owner family's misbehavior, leaving comments such as the National Pension Service, which has a 12.4 percent stake in the airline, should also take this issue seriously, or mocking Cho's behavior that “maybe we should sell Korean Air and buy some pharmaceutical shares which develops drugs for schizophrenia.”

namhw@ktimes.com

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