April 8, 2019 – Korean Air’s chairman, whose leadership included scandals such as his daughter’s infamous incident of “nut rage,” has died due to illness, the airline said today.
Cho Yang-ho had been indicted on multiple charges, including embezzlement and tax evasion, and his death came less than two weeks after a shareholder vote to remove the 70-year-old from the company’s board over a series of scandals surrounding the ruling family.
The company said Cho died in the United States but did not specify his illness or provide other details in its statement on his death. Cho had remained chairman, which is a non-board role, even after shareholders ousted him from the board. He had expressed his intent to continue participating in management.
Cho’s eldest daughter, Cho Hyun-ah, who was formerly the head of the airline’s cabin service, received worldwide notoriety in 2014 after she ordered a Korean Air passenger plane to return to a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York because she was angry that the crew served her macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a plate. The incident, dubbed “nut rage,” generated international headlines and severely tarnished the Cho family’s image.
Cho Hyun-ah was sentenced to one year in prison for violating aviation law but was released early when a higher-level court suspended the sentence.
The Cho family scandals have increased public criticism about the country’s “chaebol,” a privileged group of family-owned conglomerates that have been tied to corruption and exploitive behavior. The country’s previous conservative president is now serving a length prison term for taking tens of millions of dollars from the country’s largest companies.
Current South Korean President Moon Jae-in has vowed to curb the excesses of the chaebol. However, bad economic news appears to have softened the government’s approach to these companies, which dominate the country’s economy and are crucial to Moon’s plans for job creation.
The Cho family also faced intense criticism after company employees alleged they were subjected to mistreatment and tantrums.
Cho’s wife was summoned last May by South Korean police to question her about allegations she abused and assaulted employees.
Lee Myung-hee was accused of physically or verbally abusing more than 10 former and current employees of Cho’s Hanjin conglomerate, the parent of Korean Air.
Cho Hyun-ah’s younger sister, Cho Hyun-min, also faced investigation for allegedly hurling a cup of water during a business meeting.