More trouble may be looming on the horizon for the besieged Korean Air dynasty after the country’s education ministry announced a fresh probe into allegations that the chairman’s son gained university admission by unfair means.
In an unrelated case on Thursday, South Korean prosecutors also raided the headquarters of Korean Airlines over suspected embezzlement and breach of trust by members of its owning family. A company spokesman told Reuters an investigative team was at the headquarters but declined further comment.
Cho Won-tae, 43, is the third family member to personally come under uncomfortable public scrutiny in a matter of weeks. The police this month have questioned both his mother, Lee Myung-hee, 69, and sister, Hyun-min Cho, 36, over allegations of assault, and on Thursday said they were seeking an arrest warrant for Ms Lee.
The accusations that Mr Cho was awarded a place at Inha university in Incheon, without the required qualifications, first surfaced 20 years ago, reported the Yonhap news agency.
The revival of the claims, and the launch of a fresh probe, reflects growing intolerance among the South Korean public towards the perceived impunity of the country’s ruling wealthy elites.
Suspicion of illicit access to universities is a particularly sensitive issue against a backdrop of a workaholic culture where young people study long and stressful hours for the chance of a place at a prestigious institution.
The corruption and nepotism scandal that toppled former President Park Geun-hye in 2016 was initially sparked by the discovery that a shadowy confidante had used her connections to get her daughter into an elite university.
The education ministry on Wednesday said it would send a team of five officials to Inha university to review Mr Cho’s case.
"We’re going to determine the exact facts as to the suspicions of illicit admission, and if irregularities are found to have been involved, we’re going to sternly hold those involved responsible," a ministry official said.
According to Yonhap, the ministry first investigated the suspicions 20 years ago, allegedly finding irregularities and demanding disciplinary action against officials. The university denies any wrongdoing.
The Cho family has faced public outrage for months after Hyun-min Cho was accused of throwing water during a temper tantrum at a business meeting in March.
Click Here: racing club camiseta
During a police interview earlier this month over charges of business obstruction and assault she denied she had assaulted an employee of an advertising agency, reportedly saying she had thrown a glass towards a wall and not a person.
Her mother was also summoned before the Seoul Metropolitan Police twice this week on accusations of verbal abuse and assault against more than 10 people.
On Thursday the police announced they were seeking an arrest warrant over seven charges, accusing her of using her position to habitually assault and insult people under her control.
Yonhap reported that Ms Lee allegedly hurled pruning shears at a security guard and kicked her chauffeur.
Earlier this week Ms Lee said she was "truly sorry" for any harm she had caused to the alleged victims, but she has denied the charges against her.
The oldest daughter in the family, Hyun-ah, 44, made global headlines in 2014 for an infamous “nut rage” row on a Seoul-bound plane in New York.
Incensed that a stewardess had served her nuts in a bag and not a bowl, she forced the employee and the cabin crew chief to kneel and apologise before ordering the plane back to the gate and ejecting them.
In the public outrage that ensued, she was charged with obstructing aviation safety and sentenced to a year in prison, although she was released after three months.
Seoul South District Prosecutors’ Office is also now investigating suspicious of tax evasion, embezzlement and breach of trust by Korean Airlines Chairman, Cho Yang-ho, and members of his family, reported the local media.
The investigation reportedly began after the tax authorities questioned whether Mr Cho had paid tax on inheriting overseas assets from his father.
The events of the past few months have now reignited public anger against the family, and protests by hundreds of Korean Air employees, demanding that patriarch Cho Yang-ho stand down.