‘Nut case’ eases tension on ‘memogate’

December 18, 2014

Is the president letting out sigh of relief at Cho’s expense?

Park and Cho

S. Korean President Park Geun-hye, left, and Ex-Vice President of Korean Airlines Heather Cho (Korea Times file)

By Jun Ji-hye

Which woman is now more in the spotlight — President Park Geun-hye or former Korean Air Vice President Heather (Korean name Cho Hyun-ah)?

By conventional wisdom, President Park, as Korea’s head of state, should be the winner hands down.

However, taking into account recent media interest in the 40-year-old scion of the nation’s biggest transportation chaebol, one may now favor Cho.

Of course, the President is unlikely to be upset Cho has stolen the limelight from her.

Rather, the 63-year-old leader should be grateful the “nut rage” incident involving Cho came soon after the “memogate” scandal. That fiasco saw her inner circle members and younger brother deprive her of much-needed political capital.

From Cho’s viewpoint, all the media attention looks out of proportion, and the swift action against her by law enforcement excessive.

For someone so accustomed to luxury, it must be a great shock to now find herself facing jail.

In the meantime, few would blame the President for breathing a sigh of relief after being spared the media frenzy.

The sudden change in the public’s attention away from Park to Cho could be explained by the fact that political dramas are often not as popular as those involving the rich and famous.

Park has had a rough time since the vernacular daily Segye Ilbo broke the story on Nov. 28, citing leaked memoranda from Cheong Wa Dae that there was a power struggle involving her younger brother Ji-man and her former confidant Jeong Yun-hoe.

Following the report, the situation appeared to get out of hand amid a flood of revelations emerging from Cheong Wa Dae.

To crown it all, the head of state’s brother presented himself before the prosecution for questioning last week, as her approval ratings dipped below 40 percent for the first time since she was inaugurated on Feb. 25, 2013.

Following that nadir, criticism of the President has abated to a large extent since Dec. 5 when Heather Cho became embroiled in her own controversy. The eldest daughter of the flag carrier’s chairman, Cho Yang-ho, ordered flight KE086 bound for Incheon from New York, with some 250 other passengers on board, to return to the gate from a taxiing area at JFK International Airport so the chief flight attendant could be removed. The reason for her anger was being served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than on a plate.

The incident stirred up huge public outrage over the arrogance of the family-controlled conglomerate. Korean Air is owned by Hanjin Group, which is led by Cho Yang-ho — the son of the firm’s founder.

Park subsequently relinquished the front pages to Heather Cho, who on Dec. 9 resigned from all flight service related posts, bowing to public uproar.

On Wednesday, Cho appeared before prosecutors to face questioning, with sources saying that the prosecution is considering seeking an arrest warrant for her, grabbing media headlines yet again.

The different scandals involving the two women, who represent power and wealth, respectively, naturally made people compare and contrast them.

Rep. Seo Young-kyo of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy said the two are much the same, with both having had a privileged background because of their fathers.

Park’s late father President Park Chung-hee had dictatorial rule over the country for 18 years until he was assassinated by his intelligence chief in 1979. Among elderly people, nostalgia for the late Park remains strong due mostly to the economic development he achieved in 1960s and 1970s.

“They are the both the highest figures in the government and the company, respectively,” said Seo.

However, political analyst Lee Kang-yun noted that, “The prosecution seems to have been too cautious in their investigation into the memogate scandal, while conducting a tough probe into nut rage.”

Lee cited that prosecutors raided the headquarters of Korean Air in western Seoul as part of their investigation, while having never touched the presidential office.