Korean Air is the latest South Korean chaebol (large family-run conglomerate) hit by a scandal related to family matters. Cho Hyun-ah, company chairman Cho Yang-ho’s daughter, recently made a flight she was on turn back so one of the stewards could be kicked off at the gate. The reason: she was served macadamia nuts in an unopened bag which she, as the person actually in charge of the airline’s in-flight services, thought was not the proper way. According to common descriptions of the story she basically transformed into a dragon in response. She clearly went way too far, and by now she has ended up stripped of all of her company titles and was forced to publicly apologize for her actions.
The NYT doesn’t fail to add that the incident
“is likely to stoke already seething anger at the country’s family owned conglomerates — or chaebol — whose leaders have a reputation for imperious behavior and treating their employees like feudal subjects.”
It is worth remembering at this point Chonghaejin Marine Company’s case. It was their ship, the MW Sewol ferry which sank in April of this year. Over 300 drowned in that incident caused to a great extent by human errors. On its last journey the ferry was carrying over three times the amount of cargo it was supposed to carry, and the extra load was not properly secured. After a relatively sharp turn by the vessel at one point the cargo shifted and caused the boat to capsize.
Yoo Byung-eun was the head of the family whose business empire extended to control of Chonghaejin, run by Yoo Byung-eun’s sons at the time. In the wake of the ferry disaster, the public mood turned against father Yoo, and South Korean authorities issued an arrest warrant against him related to charges of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion. His children fled the country, and in the meantime he went into hiding, presumably with the support of the 100,000-strong Evangelical Baptist Church which he co-founded.
Eventually police found a badly decomposed body in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, south of the capital Seoul, and based on DNA evidence it was proclaimed that it was Yoo Byung-eun. He was thus pronounced dead. Police is still after Yoo Som-na, a daugther of his who is also accused of embezzlement and is held in prison in France awaiting decision on her extradition. Her defenders argue she would not get a fair trial in South Korea at this point.
The NYT is also referring to a story where a “ruling-family” member at the telecom and petrochemical conglomerate SK group beat up a union activist with an aluminum bat. This exaplains the context where many papers are now calling on government and judicial authorities to set examples with some chaebol princes and princesses to put an end to what they describe as “imperial abuse.”