Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang Ho dies 2 weeks after removal from company's board

Cho Yang-ho, chairman of Korean Air Lines Co., was on trial on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust, and was ousted from Korean Air's board last month. Photo by YONHAP NEWS AGENCY
Cho Yang-ho, chairman of Korean Air Lines Co., was on trial on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust, and was ousted from Korean Air's board last month. Photo by YONHAP NEWS AGENCY

SEOUL, April 8 (UPI) -- Korean Air Lines Co. Chairman Cho Yang Ho has died of a chronic illness, less than two weeks after he was removed from the national flag carrier's board, the company said Monday.

Cho, 70, died from a lung disease in the United States on early Monday morning. Korean Air said it would set an emergency management system in motion to keep its operations going smoothly.


The death followed his ouster from the company's board at a shareholder meeting March 27 amid a string of probes into him and his family members for using their superior positions to mistreat subordinates and growing calls to change the group's leadership.

The ouster was the first time a founding family member of any South Korean conglomerate was forced out of a key post through a vote by shareholders. Cho was the eldest son of Cho Choong Hoon, the founder of Hanjin Group.

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The late chairman also served as chairman of Hanjin Group, the country's 14th-largest conglomerate by assets. The group has Korean Air, budget carrier Jin Air Co., Hanjin KAL and several other companies under its wing.

Cho was on trial after he was indicted last year on multiple charges that include embezzlement and tax evasion.


In addition to his own problems, Cho's wife and two daughters are under intense public criticism for their misbehavior.

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In May last year, Cho's wife, Lee Myung Hee, was summoned by the police after she allegedly physically and verbally abused employees at Hanjin Group, the country's 14th-biggest conglomerate by assets.

Cho's eldest daughter, Hyun Ah, made international headlines in 2014, when she ordered the Korean Air plane she was aboard to return to its gate at a New York airport after losing her temper over the way she was served macadamia nuts.

She was sentenced to one year in prison for violating aviation law in late 2014 but was released in early 2015 when a high court suspended the sentence.

Hyun Ah's younger sister, Hyun Min, took flak for allegedly throwing a cup of water during a business meeting with a partner firm. They both resigned from their senior positions at the airline due to the scandals.

Korean Air saw its image hit rock bottom with its performance sliding in 2018. It shifted to a net loss of $147.5 million (167.6 billion won) last year from a net profit of 801.9 billion won in 2017. Cho is survived by two daughters and a son, Won Tae, who now serves as president of the national flag carrier.


Cho's death may change the ownership structure of Hanjin Group and its affiliates, with his only son coming to the forefront in the group's management.

The late chairman studied business administration at Inha University, which was established by Korean Air. He began his career at Korean Air in 1974 and served as chairman of the 2018 Winter Olympics bidding committee for Pyeongchang and chairman of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Organizing Committee.

As of 2:08 p.m., shares in Korean Air traded 1.57 percent higher at 32,450 won, outperforming the broader KOSPI's 0.09 percent loss. The airline soared 8.15 percent to 34,500 won during the morning trading.

In response to his unexpected death, the country's business lobbies represented by the Federation of Korean Industries expressed "deep regret" over his death.

"In the past 45 years, Chairman Cho helped the country's 'barren' airline and logistics industries make a leapfrog to a world-class level. It helped Corporate Korea post a dramatic growth and become the world's sixth-biggest economy in terms of trading volume," the FKI said in a statement.

Describing Cho's death as a big shock for the business circles, the Korea Employers Federation, another business lobby, asked Korean Air to maintain its leading status in Korea and grow into a global airline leader.


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