Seoul (AFP) – The patriarch of South Korean flag carrier Korean Air was grilled by prosecutors Thursday over alleged tax evasion and other crimes, as a series of probes reached the top of the troubled business dynasty.
Cho Yang-ho, 69, and his brothers and a sister allegedly avoided paying 50 billion won ($45 million) in taxes on the overseas assets they inherited after their father Cho Choong-hoon died in 2002.
“I am sorry. I will sincerely face the investigation,” Cho told journalists when he appeared at the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors Office.
Cho is chairman of the Hanjin Group, which includes Korean Air and used to own the now-bankrupt Hanjin Shipping line.
He also faces allegations of embezzling over 20 billion won from company funds and unfairly awarding contracts to companies controlled by his family members.
The super-wealthy owners of chaebols — the sprawling conglomerates that dominate the world’s 11th-largest economy — often attract controversy, but a series of scandals have made the Cho family one of the most notorious in South Korea.
Cho’s wife and children are being probed over alleged assaults, smuggling and illegal hiring of foreign housekeepers.
The two daughters, who held management positions at Korean Air, became viral sensations for temper tantrums which were dubbed the “nut rage” and “water rage” scandals online.
The elder, Cho Hyun-ah, made global headlines in 2014 for kicking a cabin crew chief off a Korean Air plane for 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.
Their father issued a public apology over the “immature” behaviour of his offspring and removed his two daughters from their management roles.
His wife Lee Myung-hee, has been questioned over multiple assault allegations and suspicions that she used company resources to illegally hire foreign housekeepers.
Her alleged abuses range from cursing and screaming at employees to kicking, slapping and even throwing a pair of scissors at them.
Her lawyer reportedly claims she is suffering from anger control disorder.
Cho himself has already had brushes with the law, receiving a suspended jail sentence for tax evasion in 2000 and awaiting trial for diverting 30 billion won of company funds for renovating his own house in 2013 and 2014.