A South Korean court has found a former executive of national airline Korean Air guilty of breaking aviation law over the “nut rage” case.
Heather Cho, also known as Hyun-ah, was jailed for one year, avoiding a possible maximum sentence of 10 years.
Cho had forced her Seoul-bound plane to turn back to the gate and offload a steward because she did not like the way she had been served nuts.
The case garnered global interest and caused an uproar in South Korea.
Cho, who was a vice-president with the airline, was found guilty of obstructing aviation safety.
Her plane was taxiing at New York’s JFK Airport on 5 December when witnesses say she became angry after being served macadamia nuts she did not ask for and which were still in a bag and not in a bowl. She ordered the plane to return to the gate and offload the chief steward.
“This is a case where human dignity was trampled upon,” Judge Oh Sung-woo said on Thursday. Cho had treated the flight “as if it was her own private plane”, Judge Oh added. “It is doubtful that the way the nuts were served was so wrong.”
The judge said Cho has failed to show enough remorse even after she submitted letters to the court apologising for the incident. At the scene: Stephen Evans, BBC News, Seoul
The case has resonated within South Korea because of a continuing debate over the way the country’s family-owned and run conglomerates – chaebols – operate.
Some critics say that the way family members are favoured is unfair and mitigates against good business. They say the nut rage case epitomises that.
In court, Cho wept as she read a letter of contrition, a contrition the judge said he didn’t accept was genuine. Apart from the serious debate, it is fair to say that many people may relish the way someone with privilege behaved so badly – and was then penalised for it.
The humiliation may be as heavy a penalty for Cho as the prison sentence. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of three years in prison on charges of breaking aviation law, assault and interfering in an investigation. Witnesses testified during the trial that Cho struck a crewmember with the service manual.
Her defence team argued that aviation safety had not been violated as the plane was still being pushed by a truck away from the gate. However, the judge rejected that argument saying the plane was classed as “in flight” and she interfered, correspondents say.
Cho, who is the daughter of the chairman of Korean Air, publicly apologised for the incident and resigned from all her posts at the airline in December. The trial has opened a national debate about the Korean business system, which is dominated by family firms known as chaebols. Some of the families running these businesses have been accused of high-handedness and acting with impunity. (BBC)