SEOUL - South Korea's transport ministry vowed to punish eight of its officials Monday after admitting their investigation into a "nut rage" incident involving Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun-Ah was unfair.
Cho, 40, is facing arrest after being accused of forcing the chief purser off a December 5 New York-Seoul flight and of compelling the taxiing plane to return to the gate so he could disembark.
She had taken exception to being served macadamia nuts she had not asked for - and in a bag, not a bowl, an incident that has caused a national uproar.
Speaking at an official briefing Monday, Shin Un-Chul, a ministry auditor, said the investigation into the incident had been impaired due to the fact that a KAL staffer had been present, which may have intimidated witnesses.
A ministry investigator was also arrested last week for leaking details of the investigation to KAL officials.
"We have found our fairness was impaired by an imprudent investigation," Shin told reporters.
Four of the eight ministry officials who questioned Cho will receive a warning, while the others will be referred to a disciplinary committee and could face dismissal, he said.
A court hearing is set for Tuesday to review an arrest warrant application for Cho on charges including violation of the aviation safety law, coercion and interference in the execution of duty.
Cho - one of three children of Korean Air boss Cho Yang-Ho, the patriarch of business conglomerate Hanjin Group - has publicly apologised and resigned from all her posts in the organisation.
The transport ministry has vowed to sanction the airline with a flight ban, most likely on the New York-Seoul route, that could last for up to a month, or with fines of up to $2 million.