The former Korean Airlines executive who made international headlines for a notorious "nut rage" incident has pleaded not guilty at the opening of her trial. She is facing up to 15 years in prison.
Cho Hyun-An denied violating aviation safety laws and three other charges as the trial got underway at Seoul's western district court on Monday.
The 40-year-old daughter of Korean Air chief Cho-Yang-Ho caused an uproar after she threw a tantrum over macadamia nuts on board a New York-Seoul KAL flight last month.
In the December 5 incident, Cho kicked the chief flight attendant off the plane after she was served the nuts in a bag, instead of a bowl, compelling the taxiing jet to return to the gate so the steward could disembark.
Prosecutors argue Cho violated aviation security laws by changing the flight's route - an offense which carries a prison sentence of 10 years. The other three charges relate to using violence against the flight crew, conspiring with airline executives to coerce the crew to lie to investigators, and forcing the flight's purser off the plane.
Cho, who appeared in court wearing a green prison uniform and with her head bowed, has been in police custody since her formal arrest on December 30. She could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of all four charges.
'Like an angry tiger'
In his opening statements, Cho's lawyer Yu Seung-nam argued the charges were based on "exaggerated statements" and that safety laws hadn't been breached because the plane had moved only 17 meters (55 feet) from the gate at New York's John F. Kennedy airport when it was forced to turn back.
"The charge that she violated aviation safety rules should be reconsidered," Yu said, adding that Cho was "extremely remorseful" about her behavior.
Cho also denied physically assaulting the chief steward, Park Chang-Jin, who says she made him kneel and beg for forgiveness while she jabbed him with a service manual. She did, however, admit to using violence against one crew member in first class by pushing her and throwing an object at her.
Prosecutor Kim Tae-hoon told the court that a flight attendant who witnessed Cho's fit was scared and nervous throughout the 14-hour journey.
"The moment her anger erupted, the vice president did not look like a human. She looked like an angry tiger," said Kim, reading from the flight attendant's statement.
The incident, dubbed "nut rage," struck a nerve in South Korea, where the economy is dominated by giant family-run conglomerates known as "chaebol" that often act above the law.
Cho was KAL's vice president and the company's head of cabin service at the time of the nutty outburst, but has since resigned from all her posts and issued a public apology.
She is the KAL chairman's eldest child, and her two siblings are also executives with the airline.
nm/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)