Prosecutors seek jail for former Korean Air exec who 'threw nutty' over nuts
The incident touched a nerve in South Korea, where the economy is dominated by family-run conglomerates known as chaebol that often act above the law.
Seoul, South Korea — South Korean prosecutors on Monday recommended three years in jail for the former Korean Air executive charged with endangering flight safety during a tantrum over how she was served macadamia nuts.
Heather Cho, the daughter of Korean Air's chairman, has pleaded not guilty to four charges. In the final day of testimony, she defended her actions as the result of devotion to work and said cabin crew in first class had erred by not following proper procedures.
Cho ordered the chief flight attendant off a Dec. 5 flight after a heated confrontation with cabin crew, forcing the plane to return to the gate at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. She was angry at being offered nuts in a bag, instead of on a dish. Park Chang-jin, the chief attendant, told the court he and others were treated like "feudal slaves" by Cho.
Her behavior, dubbed nut rage, caused an uproar in South Korea. The incident touched a nerve in a country where the economy is dominated by family-run conglomerates known as chaebol that often act above the law.
Prosecutors are seeking a 2-year jail sentence for Yeo Woon-jin, the Korean Air executive accused of pressuring cabin crew to cover up the incident and lie to investigators from South Korea's transport ministry.
They also called for two years in jail for Kim Woon-sub, a transport ministry official and former Korean Air executive accused of leaking secrets about the ministry's investigation.
In seeking three years in jail for Cho, prosecutors said she stood atop the airline's systematic efforts to cover up the incident, compel employees to lie to government investigators and discredit and blame Park, the chief flight attendant.
The three trial judges are expected to announce their verdicts before Lunar New Year holidays later this month.
During the trial, Cho admitted using violence against one flight attendant by pushing her shoulder and throwing an object at her. A statement from one crew member described Cho as behaving like an "angry tiger."
Lawyers for Cho have not disputed the major elements of the prosecutor's account of events. Instead, they have focused on a technical rebuttal of the charges. That has included trying to demonstrate that the flight attendants didn't know proper service procedures.
On the most serious charge of changing a flight's route, they argued that events fell short of that definition because the plane was only meters (yards) from the gate when it turned back.
Cho, who has been in custody since Dec. 30, said she did not realize the chief flight attendant has law enforcement authority during the flight and that ordering him off the plane was consequently a risk to safety. The "final call" about returning to the gate was made by the captain, she said.
"I think this case happened because of devotion to my work and because I could not be considerate to other people," Cho said.
Last week, cabin crew told the court they were pressured by Korean Air executives to cover up the incident and lie to investigators.