Korean Air chairman Cho testifies in 'nut rage' trial

Korean Air chairman Cho testifies in 'nut rage' trial
Korean Air Lines Chairman Cho Yang-ho bows as he arrives to testify at the second court hearing of his daughter Cho Hyun-ah, also known as Heather Cho, at the Seoul Western District court in Seoul January 30, 2015

Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho testified as a witness in a Seoul trial on Friday over his daughter's alleged breach of aviation safety regulations.

The Seoul Western District Court questioned the 65-year-old chairman on whether the senior steward Park Chang-jin, who was allegedly assaulted by Cho's daughter and forced off the Seoul-bound Korean Air flight in New York last month, would be able to keep his job.

"I promise that the chief steward will face no disadvantages at work," Cho said.

He apologised to Park as the company chairman and pledged to reform the airline's business culture.

Some Korean Air officials were accused of attempting to coerce employees, including Park, to provide false accounts of the "nut rage" incident and threatening to fire him.

The judge also called in a junior attendant, surnamed Kim, who is known to have been verbally and physically abused by the Hanjin Group heiress after serving her macadamia nuts in an unopened pack instead of on a plate.

During the trial, Kim testified that Cho pushed her to a corner and she along with Park kneeled down in front of the former executive on the flight.

The junior attendant also said that the company offered her a professorship at a Korean Air-affiliated college but denied the accusation that she gave a false testimony in exchange for the deal during an investigation conducted by the Transport Ministry.

"Senior company officials told me to testify as they ordered and said that I shouldn't worry (about the investigation) because the investigator of the ministry was a former employee," she said.

She said the executive surnamed Yeo, who has been indicted on charges of destroying evidence, forced her to keep mum on Cho's use of abusive language and violence.

The chief steward Park, however, did not show up for the trial despite receiving court summons.

Park, who has been on sick leave since December last year for mental treatment, plans to get back to work from Feb. 1, he said during a radio interview last week.

During the first hearing, on Jan. 19, the former Korean Air vice president denied allegations that she had changed flight plans and interfered with a government probe into the on-flight incident. The incident caused an 11-minute flight delay for the 250 or so passengers.

Prosecutors suspect that Cho forced the pilot to return to the gate, though she was aware that the plane had begun taxiing. Citing flight safety regulations, they consider the flight to have started the moment the plane doors closed.

Cho's attorneys, on the other hand, denied the charges, asserting that they were not applicable as the plane was still on the ground, not airborne.

The 40-year-old daughter of the airline owner was indicted on Jan. 7 on five charges including violence and obstructing the crew during the flight.

Following a national uproar over the issue, Cho apologised for the "foolish" actions of his daughter "as a father and head of Korean Air" and removed her from all official posts on Dec. 12.

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