Korean Air chief’s family faces growing accusations

A civic group holds a protest in front of Inha University, June 4, urging a thorough investigation into admission irregularities regarding Cho Won-tae, son of Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho. Yonhap

By Kim Hyun-bin

The government is rolling up its sleeves to punish Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho and his family in response to the growing outcry not only by the public but also by the airliner’s employees.

Besides the country’s prosecutors, police and immigration authorities, the Ministry of Education has stepped in to correct irregularities regarding Cho’s son, Won-tae, as it found he was illegally admitted to Inha University.

The education ministry ordered Inha to revoke his diploma, given that Cho Won-tae did not meet the requirements when he was transferring to Inha from a U.S. community college in the late 1990s. Also, Cho’s son received a bachelor’s degree from Inha University, even though he lacked the minimum requirements for his major to graduate. He needed at least 140 credit hours.

But Inha said the ministry’s order was “too much,” apparently siding with its alumni, adding it would consider “legal action” to fight this. Hanjin Group, owned by Cho’s family, runs a foundation that had donated money to Inha.

Like his sisters and parents, Cho Won-tae, president of Korean Air may face questioning as authorities are expected to up the ante against the Cho family amid the public’s demand to oust them.

The ministry first probed Cho Won-tae’s affairs some 20 years ago after uncovering irregularities involving his admission to the university. However, it stopped short of disciplinary action against the university.

Education authorities found a series of irregularities in the school, which granted many outsourcing contracts to Hanjin affiliates for its operations.

The ministry is looking to turn over this case to the prosecution, and the chairman is expected to be called in for questioning.

Cho’s family is also under scrutiny amid allegations ranging from abuse of power, assault and tax evasion to smuggling luxury goods from abroad.

Chairman Cho is currently being investigated for alleged embezzlement and tax evasion.
Prosecutors suspect Chairman Cho of dodging inheritance taxes amounting to more than 50 billion won (US$45 million) and embezzling some 20 billion won by unfairly awarding business contracts to companies controlled by his family.

Cho’s wife Lee Myung-hee, is accused of illegally hiring foreign maids from the Philippines without obtaining proper visas. Lee is being investigated for another case involving assault and abuse allegations.
Ten Filipino housekeepers are suspected of being hired illegally via Korean Air’s sponsorship and training program.

When a foreign national wants to work as a maid they have to hold F-4 or F-6 visas. F-4 visas are given to overseas Koreans and F-6 visas are provided for marriage-based immigrants.

Cho Hyun-min, the youngest daughter and a former executive of Korean Air, has been under investigation for allegedly assaulting an ad agency executive.

Cho’s oldest daughter Cho Hyun-ah is notorious for the “nut rage” incident in 2014. She forced a plane she boarded back to its gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport after throwing a tantrum over the way her nuts were served.

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