A Seoul court has turned down a request from prosecutors to arrest the matriarch of the troubled Korean Air dynasty over multiple assault charges, sparking public anger.
Lee Myung-hee, the wife of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho, was released from police custody late Monday after the Seoul Central District Court refused to issue an arrest warrant for her.
It was a rare piece of good news for the family, who have found themselves the object of public anger following a series of scandals.
Lee’s two daughters, who held management positions at South Korea’s national carrier, became viral sensations for temper tantrums which were dubbed the “nut rage” and “water rage” scandals online.
Her older daughter Cho Hyun-ah made global headlines in 2014 for kicking a cabin crew chief off a Korean Air plane for being served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than a bowl. She later served a short prison sentence.
Earlier this year, her younger sister Cho Hyun-min was accused of throwing a drink at an advertising agency manager’s face in a fit of rage during a business meeting.
Their father, Cho Yang-ho, issued a public apology over the “immature” behaviour of his offspring and removed his two daughters from their management roles.
Authorities have since launched a flurry of official probes into the family’s reported abuse of workers, as well as allegations of smuggling and violations of immigration law.
Cho Hyun-ah was questioned for 15 hours until early Tuesday by tax authorities as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations she used Korean Air flights to smuggle foreign luxuries.
Lee, 69, faces multiple allegations of assault against drivers and housekeepers from her personal staff as well as construction workers renovating her home and building a Korean Air-affiliated hotel.
The alleged abuses range from cursing and screaming at employees to kicking, slapping and even throwing a pair of scissors at them.
A video that emerged last month showed a woman, reportedly Lee, shoving a female construction worker and throwing a pile of documents on the ground.
But the court said there was a low risk of Lee fleeing or seeking to destroy evidence, and that the charges were disputable.
“I’m sorry for causing trouble,” Lee said as she left a police station in Seoul.
But a torrent of criticism of the court decision was posted online.
“If Lee Myung-hee curses at you, judge, and throws a pair of scissors at you, would you likewise refuse to issue an arrest warrant?” read one, drawing more than 1,000 likes.
The presidential Blue House website was also flooded with angry objections, with one writing: “The court has become a puppet for chaebol” — the name for the family-run conglomerates that dominate the South Korean economy.