Korean Air Owner’s Wife Hit with Travel Ban
Troy Young, May 10, 2018, 1:25 p.m.
Police have slapped a travel ban on Korean Air chief Cho Yang-ho's wife, who is being investigated on charges of assaulting staff as well as running a luxury-goods smuggling racket. Police said Wednesday that the move was taken due to concerns that Lee Myung-hee could flee to Los Angeles in the U.S., where she owns a home.
Lee has been questioned on suspicions of verbally abusing and physically assaulting staff at her home and a construction site for the Grand Hyatt Incheon, which belongs to a Korean Air subsidiary.
She is also under investigation for smuggling luxury goods and evading taxes along with daughters, former Korean Air executives Cho Hyun-ah and Hyun-min, who were also accused of assault and abusing staff.
Lee issued a statement denying the charges. Answering charges that she fired a worker on the Hyatt building site who failed to address her with an honorific title, Lee said, "At the time, a worker said, 'Lady, please get out of here, we've got to get ready,' and I smiled and went back to my room."
She denies throwing her weight at the hotel later, saying, "I checked up on gardening as a consultant at the instructions of the chairman," her husband.
She denied kicking staff or forcing them to kneel, but apologized for other types of abuse without elaborating. Lee also denied smuggling luxury goods on a regular basis and rewarding customs officials who looked the other way with kickbacks and favors. She said she just asked her husband’s secretary to buy some "small household items or foods" for her several times.
The successive scandals point to a deeply ingrained culture of entitlement and congenital anger-management problems in the Cho family.
Cho senior, who was convicted of tax evasion in 2000, has not yet been implicated in the smuggling scandal but is being investigated for tax evasion again. Prosecutors accuse him of failing to pay hundreds of millions of won in inheritance tax.
The National Tax Service believes that the four sons and daughters of the founder of the Hanjin Group, which owns Korean Air, have not reported their inheritance from their father Cho Choong-hoon.
The patriarch died in 2002 and is said to have held real estate and assets in Switzerland and France, and the inheritance tax his children allegedly failed to pay runs to over W50 billion (US$1=W1,081).
A prosecution official said the Chos stand accused of taking advantage of the fact that it is difficult to track assets held overseas. Prosecutors are analyzing evidence handed over by the NTS and will summon the Chos for questioning once they have reviewed it.
The Hanjin Group denies the allegations, saying the siblings "did not intentionally evade inheritance tax."
A Hanjin spokesman said, "We failed to recognize that there is a missing inheritance tax payment" and added that once executives discovered the missed payment in 2016, they reported the matter to the NTS and the Chos will pay the tax within this month.