SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The widow of the former Korean Air chairman received a suspended prison sentence Tuesday for assault and other abuses of her chauffeur, security guard and other employees in a case that extended a bizarre legal saga surrounding the company’s founding family.
The Seoul Central District Court found 70-year-old Lee Myung-hee guilty of habitual abuse toward helpless “victims who were under her influence” and sentenced her to a two-year prison sentence. The sentence will be suspended if she commits no more violations for three years.
While prosecutors had sought a jail term of 2 1/2 years, the court said it considered Lee’s age and that she was acknowledging responsibility. It wasn’t immediately known whether prosecutors or Lee would appeal the ruling.
Lee was accused of physically and verbally abusing her employees between 2011 and 2018, including reportedly kicking her chauffeur for failing to load luggage into a car and throwing pruning shears toward a security guard at her home.
She is the widow of former Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho, who died last year. Their son, Walter Cho, has been leading Korean Air since then.
Their daughter, Cho Hyun-ah, was a company executive who gained 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.
Dubbed “nut rage,” the incident severely tarnished the Cho family’s image. She was released from jail in South Korea in May 2015 after the top court suspended her sentence in the case.
Korean Air has seen tough business conditions since the coronavirus pandemic, and it is rotating 70% of its 20,000 workers on six months paid leave amid a sharp decrease in air travel.