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Former Korean Air Executive Faces Prison Over 'Nut Rage'

Cho Hyun-ah, center, a former vice president of Korean Air, faces charges of impeding the inquiry into a possible breach of aviation safety laws. She was arrested last Tuesday.

A week after she was arrested over a tantrum on a tarmac in New York, former Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah faces charges of breaking aviation safety laws and then interfering with the inquiry into the incident.

Cho was indicted on those charges today, placing her under the threat of possibly spending years in prison. She was arrested on Dec. 30 along with two others — an airline executive and an official at the Transport Ministry — who are accused of working to undermine the investigation.

On Dec. 5, Cho forced a plane that had left its departure gate at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to return to its gate so it could leave behind the senior steward.

Cho had insisted on the step after becoming enraged over being served macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a plate while she was seated in first class.

Before the outburst, Cho, who has also been called by the first name Heather, had served as Korean Air's head of in-flight services. She is the daughter of airline chairman Cho Yang-ho.

The episode quickly became notorious (we called it a "nut rumpus" last month), putting new scrutiny on the privileged lives of South Korea's wealthy, and corporations' ties to government.

From the Korea Herald:

"The prosecution said it would launch an additional investigation into the Transport Ministry over suspicions that public servants had received special favors from Korean Air. Some ranking officials were accused of having their seats upgraded regularly for free."

This week, Cho's attorney told a judge that "Cho was in an excited state and may not have been aware of the fact that the plane had started to move," the Chosun Ilbo reports.

In other recent developments in the case, prosecutors said that Cho's younger sister, Cho Hyun-min, who's also a Korean Air executive, sent her embattled big sister a text message "promising to 'take revenge' on her behalf," the Ilbo says. The younger Cho apologized for that note after officials introduced the phone's contents as part of the evidence against Cho.

The AP tells us more about the charges Cho faces:

"She could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of all four charges she faces, according to Attorney Park Jin Nyoung, spokesman for the Korean Bar Association. Prosecutors accused her of forcing a flight to change its normal route, which Park said was the most serious charge with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The three other charges she faces are the use of violence against flight crew, hindering a government probe and forcing the flight's purser off the plane."

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