South Korean prosecutors have suggested a three-year prison sentence for Cho Hyun-ah, the Korean Air executive infamous for her “nut rage” incident in December. Cho faces a maximum sentence of 15 years for forcing a Korean Air plane back to its gate at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport during a tantrum over the manner in which she was served macadamia nuts.
A Korean Air chief steward said Cho treated the crew of the flight like “feudal slaves, forcing us to sacrifice and treating it as if it were the natural thing to do.” Her lawyer called the charges -- including obstruction of aviation safety and two counts of assault -- exaggerated.
On Monday, the last day of testimony in the case, Cho defended herself, saying her overreaction was because of her devotion to her job as head of cabin service for the airline.
The 40-year-old former senior vice president allegedly humiliated and beat a Korean Air chief steward during the incident, forcing him to get on his knees and beg for her forgiveness. Her actions delayed the plane only 20 minutes, but the South Korean public saw it as an extreme example of what some call the brazen elitist attitudes of the “chaebol,” or the wealthy families who own much of South Korea’s biggest companies. A similar incident occurred in 2013, but an internal airline investigation found no fault.
Cho is the daughter of Korean Air’s chairman and part of one of the most powerful families in South Korea. Her grandfather and father, who is chairman of Korean Air’s umbrella company Hanjin Corporation, were found guilty of tax evasion in 2000. Her brother reportedly assaulted an elderly woman who chastised him for driving dangerously. Cho herself was the subject of popular criticism in 2013 for giving birth in Hawaii so her twin boys would be exempt from South Korea’s military service requirements, according to the Guardian. Most of her public apologies over the “nut rage” incident has fallen on deaf ears.