Four South Korean officials found guilty of improper conduct during investigations into a former Korean Air Lines executive will be punished, the Transport Ministry said on Monday. The officials allegedly tried to help the airline company during the probe into Cho Hyun-ah, the heiress to Korean Air Lines, who forced a flight to return over a bag of improperly served macadamia nuts.
Shin Eun-chul, the ministry’s head of internal investigations, said the officials could face dismissals, salary reductions or formal reprimands, according to the Associated Press. Four other lower-ranking officials involved in the investigations were also issued warnings. None of the officials have been identified.
Earlier this month, Cho Hyun-ah (who also goes by Heather), the 40-year-old daughter of Korean Air Lines Chairman Cho Yang-ho, caused a stir when the chief flight attendant, Park Chang-jin, served her macadamia nuts in a bag rather than on a plate. Ms. Cho, who at the time was head of in-flight services, forced the plane, which was preparing to take off from New York, to return to the gate and also forced the flight attendant off of the aircraft.
Cho Yang-ho has apologized for his daughter’s behavior, and Cho Hyun-ah has since stepped down as head of in-flight services. Ms. Cho, however, will remain a vice president with Korean Air Lines, Reuters reported.
The Transport Ministry said it would report Ms. Cho to prosecutors for having broken aviation safety law, and the courts are deciding whether to issue an arrest warrant for her. The ministry itself has been under fire, however, as officials involved in the investigation were found to have leaked information and have tried to hinder the probe.
An official was arrested last Friday over allegations that he informed a current Korean Air Lines executive known only as Yeo during several telephone conversations and text messages about the proceedings. Other ministry officials involved in the investigation were also found responsible for allowing Yeo to attend the questionings of flight attendant Park Chang-jin and failing to interview the other passengers on the flight with Ms. Cho. Yeo is now under suspicion of pressuring airline employees to cover up the incident.
Ms. Cho’s outburst and the resulting cover-up is seen in the country as the latest sign of conglomerates accused of being run by family dynasties, or “chaebol,” according to the New York Times.