SEOUL, South Korea — The police on Friday began looking into accusations that a sister of Korean Air’s infamous “nut rage” heiress physically abused an advertising executive, insulting him and hurling water in his face during a business meeting.
Cho Hyun-min, 35, is a younger sister of Cho Hyun-ah, a Korean Air vice president whose 2014 tantrum over how macadamia nuts had been served to her in first class made the company a target of ridicule and outrage, in South Korea and elsewhere. Both women are daughters of Cho Yang-ho, the airline’s chairman.
In the “nut rage” incident, Cho Hyun-ah used abusive language, threw documents and even made flight attendants kneel and beg for forgiveness for serving the nuts without first asking her — and in an unopened package, rather than on a plate. Still not satisfied, Ms. Cho ordered the Korean Air plane back to its gate while it was taxiing at New York’s Kennedy International Airport so she could have the chief flight attendant removed.
She was sentenced to one year in prison by a South Korean court for violating airline safety laws. An appeals court later released her after reducing her sentence to a suspended term.
During the furor in South Korea over the “nut rage” episode, Cho Hyun-min, then a Korean Air executive in charge of corporate communications, sent a Twitter message to her sister, vowing “revenge” against unspecified enemies of the family, according to investigators. She later apologized for what she called her “immature” behavior.
Cho Hyun-ah’s conduct made her a lightning rod for South Koreans who feel that leaders of the country’s family-run business conglomerates, or chaebol, which dominate the economy, act as if they are above the law. Chaebol families have been repeatedly entangled in corruption scandals and sibling feuds.
In the latest incident, Cho Hyun-min, who now oversees marketing at the airline, was accused in news reports of throwing a cup of water at an executive for an advertising company during a meeting last month. The incident was cited as an example of what South Koreans call “gapjil” — the abuse of underlings and subcontractors by executives who behave like feudal lords.
On Friday, Korean Air officials declined to comment on the police investigation. But they said Ms. Cho had raised her voice after becoming displeased with answers she got from the advertising executive, and that she threw water on the floor, not at the man’s face.
Korean Air also released a copy of a text message it said Ms. Cho sent to the executive, apologizing for her behavior. The executive accepted her apology in a text message, vowing to work harder to produce a better advertising campaign for Korean Air, according to the company.
“I apologize with my head down for my foolish and reckless behavior,” Ms. Cho wrote on her Facebook page on Thursday, after South Korean news media began reporting the episode.
The police said their investigation was preliminary and that they would decide later whether the case merited an full-fledged investigation and criminal charges.
Over the years, a handful of chaebol families have developed reputations for running their corporate empires like the military dictators who set the stage for their success in the decades after the Korean War.
South Koreans covet jobs at chaebol companies, which are among the most lucrative in the country. But there is also deep resentment of the families who run the conglomerates, especially the children of the founding tycoons, who are widely considered greedy and arrogant.
“What did I do wrong?” Cho Hyun-ah asked a fellow executive when the “nut rage” incident became an issue, according to prosecutors.
Ms. Cho later apologized repeatedly for her misconduct, and her father was forced to fire her. She recently made a comeback, however, landing a management post at a Korean Air-owned hotel business.
South Korea often brims with schadenfreude when a chaebol scion is publicly humiliated. This week, some visitors to the website of President Moon Jae-in’s office demanded that Korean Air be barred from using “Korean” in its name.