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Whistle-blowers describe Korean Air smuggling

May 04,2018
Two employees from an overseas Korean Air office have come forward with evidence that the Cho family smuggled goods almost every week for the past nine years.

While the Korean Customs Service is already looking into allegations that the family used Korean Air as a personal tax-free delivery service, the latest accusations are the first to have come from an overseas office. The two whistle-blowers provided two voice recordings that could be used as evidence by the police and the customs agency.

The sources - one currently working for Korean Air and another who recently resigned - used the confidential Telegram chat room and phone calls to deliver their evidence to local media on Thursday.

They admitted that they were involved in smuggling goods to Korea for the Cho family.

“I delivered one large package and smaller midsize packages about twice a week, on average, for nine years,” said the former employee. “It was very illegal.”

According to the sources, Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho’s two daughters - Cho Hyun-ah, who’s infamous 2014 “nut rage” scandal grounded a plane in New York, and Cho Hyun-min, currently under police investigation for throwing drinks at advertising agency employees - ordered goods online to be delivered to the airline’s overseas office.

Then, an employee - often one of the two sources that spoke to reporters - would take an empty bag from the passenger terminal to the office. A senior employee would fill this bag with the Cho sisters’ shopping. Once the bag was filled, the source took the luggage back to the airport. The other source that spoke to the media was responsible for loading the bags onto Korean Air planes.

The sources didn’t know exactly what was inside the bag, but said they had spotted biscuits, chocolate, sportswear and luxury handbags.

According to the whistle-blowers, at least three empty bags were delivered to the Korean Air office to be filled with shopping during February. The most recent bag that either source saw was on April 5, just before Cho Hyun-min reignited public interest in the family last month.

The two anonymous sources said orders would stop for three to four months each time the family was embroiled in a public scandal, such as during the “nut rage” incident in 2014, or when Hanjin Shipping went bankrupt in 2016.

The two anonymous sources also claimed that a high-ranking Korean Air employee ordered them to erase all traces of the smuggling process. Korean Air released a statement Thursday refuting the claims.

The company questioned the authenticity of the sources, saying that there was no employee that has recently resigned and matches the description of the anonymous source. The company also said it did not pressure employees to erase traces.

Earlier in the morning the airline also denied reports there is a hidden room in Chairman Cho Yang-ho’s home in Pyeongchang-dong, central Seoul.

The Korea customs agency, however, said on Thursday that they found a vault in a hidden room that could only be opened with a special remote control. The agency did not reveal what they found inside.


BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]