“Nut rage” airline exec faces arrest in South Korea

Cho Hyun-ah


South Korean prosecutors are seeking to arrest the former executive at Korean Air Lines Co. who forced a flight to return over a bag of macadamia nuts and a current executive for attempts to cover up the “nut rage” case.

Seoul Western Prosecutors’ Office said Wednesday that Cho Hyun-ah faces charges including inflight violence and changing a flight route. The current airline executive, a 57-year-old man surnamed Yeo, faces charges of pressuring airline employees to cover up the incident, according to an official at the prosecutors’ office who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak about the matter.

Cho, the daughter of the Korean Air chairman, earlier this month resigned as vice president at the airline and all roles from the airline’s affiliates as public outrage mounted over her behavior. She forced a Dec. 5 plane bound for South Korea from the United States to return to a gate and kicked off a flight attendant because the nuts were served in a bag, not on a plate.

Prosecutors launched a probe over the incident after a civic group filed a complaint against Cho. Last week, the transport ministry also reported Cho to prosecutors and said it will sanction Korean Air Lines for pressuring employees to lie during a government probe.

Chang Man-yong, a transport ministry official, said the ministry had asked prosecutors to investigate a transport ministry official suspected of leaking secrets about the ministry’s probe into Yeo, the 57-year-old Korean Air executive. The government official, surnamed Kim, worked at Korean Air for 15 years before getting a job at the transport ministry.

When as part of the ministry probe Kim questioned the crew member who had to leave the plane, Yeo, the executive facing the charge of trying to cover up the incident, sat next to the crew member, Chang said. South Korean media reported that prosecutors raided Kim’s house and office, but the prosecutors’ office declined to confirm the report.

Cho, 40, and her father apologized earlier this month, but a new furor has erupted over Korean Air’s attempt to foil government investigators. The public was also enraged because the transport ministry let a Korean Air executive to sit in during the questioning of the crew member and because a majority of the ministry investigators formerly worked at Korean Air, South Korea’s largest air carrier.

South Korean retailers are experiencing an unexpected upside from the incident: a boom in sales of macadamias.

Auction, a South Korean unit of eBay and South Korea’s second-largest e-commerce website, said last week that sales of macadamias surged nearly 12-fold during the previous five days without any promotions. It said macadamias previously made up 5 percent of its nut sales but were now accounting for almost half.

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