The scandal engulfing the Korean Air dynasty widened Monday as 69-year-old matriarch Lee Myung-hee faced police questioning over allegations she assaulted employees including household staff and construction workers renovating her home.
Lee’s two daughters, who held management positions at South Korea’s top carrier, became viral sensations for their own temper tantrums which were dubbed the “nut rage” and “water rage” scandals online.
“I am sorry for causing trouble,” a bespectacled Lee said with her head lowered as she walked past throngs of journalists before entering a Seoul police office.
Lee is accused of assaulting drivers and housekeepers from her personal staff as well as construction workers renovating her home and building a Korean Air-affiliated hotel.
The alleged abuses range from cursing and screaming at employees to kicking, slapping and even throwing a pair of scissors at them.
A video that emerged last month showed a woman, reportedly Lee, shoving a female construction worker and throwing a pile of documents on the ground.
Only last week, Lee’s daughter Cho Hyun-ah was summoned before immigration authorities over allegations she hired 10 Filipina maids to work at her family home on false pretences, by claiming they were working for Korean Air.
It is illegal in South Korea to hire foreigners as domestic helpers.
Cho Hyun-ah made global headlines in 2014 for kicking a cabin crew chief off a Korean Air plane in a fury over being served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than a bowl. She later served a short prison sentence.
Earlier this year, her younger sister Cho Hyun-min was accused of throwing a drink at an advertising agency manager’s face in a fit of rage during a business meeting.
Authorities have since launched a flurry of official probes into the family’s reported abuse of workers, as well as smuggling and immigration law violations.
Their father, Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho, issued a public apology over the “immature” behaviour of his offspring and removed his two daughters from their management roles.
But that has done little to placate employees. Hundreds of Korean Air workers have held weekly protests in Seoul demanding the ouster of the Cho clan from the country’s flag carrier — a rare act of defiance in the country that prizes loyalty among workers.
The current chairman’s late father founded the Hanjin Group — the South’s 14th-largest business group that runs logistics, transport and hotels businesses as well as Korean Air.