South Korean prosecutors have arrested a former executive of the country’s top airline, who came under heavy criticism over a controversial ‘nut rage’ incident early this month.
Cho Hyun-ah was put in a Seoul detention facility on Wednesday shortly after the court approved her arrest warrant on Tuesday night.
Prosecutors have yet to press criminal charges against Cho, but South Korean law allows authorities to arrest a suspect for up to six months over worries the person could flee or destroy evidence. Seoul Western District Court said such concerns were warranted.
Cho had resigned as the airline’s vice-president for cabin service four days after a national uproar over her conduct aboard a Seoul-bound Korean Air flight from New York on December 5.
Cho, the eldest daughter of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho, had forced the plane to return to the gate and kicked off the chief flight attendant because she had been served nuts in a bag, not on a plate. Cho said the crew did not follow the proper procedure for serving nuts to first-class passengers.
The flight was subsequently returned to the gate, causing an 11-minute delay in its arrival at Seoul’s main gateway, Incheon International Airport. More than 250 passengers were on board.
‘Hierarchy and inequality’
“The enormous interest in this story stems not just from the fact that it all began with an argument about a bag of nuts. But also because of what it says about hierarchy and inequality in this society,” said Al Jazeera’s correspondent Harry Fawcett from Seoul.
Lee Ji-Soo, a representative from South Korea’s law and business research centre, told Al Jazeera that cases like Cho’s are not unheard of. “This is just one incident that actually grabbed some of the public’s attention. But I hear almost every month, similar incidents that happens within the corporations that does not actually end up in this kind of big incident,” he said.
Cho apologised for her actions in front of cameras in previous public appearances, but declined to talk to journalists on Tuesday.
The charges against Cho include violations of aviation safety regulations – changing flight plans and assaults on a plane – and coercion and interference in the execution of duty.
A current Korean Air executive, surnamed Yeo, was also arrested on Tuesday for allegedly pressuring Korean Air employees to conceal the incident, the officials said.
The court said there were “systematic attempts to cover up” Cho’s actions “since the beginning of the incident”.