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Court rejects arrest warrant for Korean Air matriarch

June 06,2018
A Seoul court denied the police’s request for an arrest warrant on Lee Myung-hee, the wife of Hanjin Group’s chairman, on Monday, a setback for the police as they investigate allegations that Lee assaulted and abused employees of her husband’s company.

In a late-night decision, the Seoul Central District Court said it found no indication that Lee might try to destroy evidence against her or tamper with witness testimony.

Police requested a warrant for Lee’s arrest last week as part of their investigation into abuse at Hanjin, the parent company of Korean Air. In one case, Lee allegedly threw pruning shears at a janitor in her residence in Pyeongchang-dong, central Seoul, for not monitoring the entry gate. In another case from 2014, Lee could be seen in CCTV footage trying to grab a worker and throwing stacks of paper at her in a hotel construction site.

Police questioned over 170 witnesses and confirmed 24 cases involving 11 victims. Lee was questioned twice by police and denied most of the allegations against her except ones where authorities had visual or audio evidence against her.

Lee’s daughter, Cho Hyun-min, faces similar allegations of worker abuse. During a meeting in March, she allegedly threw a drink at employees of a Korean Air advertising agency.

Police wanted to arrest her on charges of assault and obstruction of business, a punishable crime in Korea, but the assault part was dropped after two victims chose not to press charges against her. Last month, police handed the case over to prosecutors with the recommendation of charging her for obstruction of business.

The controversial family is under investigation by more than 10 law enforcement agencies on accusations including smuggling, gaining unfair admission to academic institutions and giving unfair favors to affiliates. Lee’s other daughter, Cho Hyun-ah, was questioned on Monday by customs officials on allegations of smuggling luxury goods into the country.

Cho became the subject of global ridicule in 2014 after she ordered a taxiing Korean Air plane at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to return to a gate because she was dissatisfied with the way a flight attendant served her macadamia nuts.

On Tuesday, an association of Korean Air employees criticized the court’s decision on Lee’s arrest warrant.

“There is enough evidence on video footage and audio files that Lee assaulted employees regularly,” the association said in a statement. “What more specific evidence does it need? The judges are siding with the haves in society and breaking the hearts of the have-nots. We will not give up this fight.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]