South Korea 'nut rage' executive Heather Cho freed

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Media caption,
Stephen Evans said Cho looked "gaunt" after her four months in prison

Former Korean Air executive Heather Cho, who was jailed for an outburst over macadamia nuts, has been freed after winning a court appeal.

Cho was jailed for a year in February but the court on Friday ruled she should serve a suspended sentence.

She was convicted of violating plane safety after ordering a taxiing plane back to the gate to offload a steward who had served the nuts the wrong way.

But the appeal court ruled she did not cause a change in the flight path.

It gave Cho a reduced sentence of 10 months and suspended the prison term for two years.

She remains guilty of using violence against flight attendants.

She did not answer questions from reporters and quickly left in a car.

Cho, also known as Cho Hyun-ah, was a vice-president of Korean Air. She is also the daughter of the company's chairman.

Analysis from Stephen Evans, BBC South Korea Correspondent

Cho Hyun-ah arrived at the appeal-court under police guard, dressed in the plain green overalls of the South Korean prison service. She left, having changed swiftly, into the black non-prison garb which has become her "outfit of contrition".

Before she was imprisoned at the end of last year, she repeatedly paraded herself before batteries of television cameras. Dressed in black from head to foot, voice at a whisper, she would express her contrition. So she appeared today, though without the big apology.

The court had quashed one of her convictions - illegally deviating a flight - a charge intended for hijackers.

But the assault in the form of jabbing the flight attendant with a bunch of papers was not over-turned. That verdict stands. And surely so does the humiliation. She became "nut-rage woman" around the world. That memory can't be erased.

Nor can a bigger question in the minds of many South Koreans. The economy is dominated by family-run chaebols - or firms - huge conglomerates answerable to no-one but the family oligarch. Often these companies are very successful, sometimes they aren't.

Cho had a job on the board of Korean Air. She was the boss's daughter. Is keeping business in the family a good way of running an economy?

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Head steward Park Chang-jin was ordered off the plane by Cho

On 5 December last year, Cho became angry while onboard a Korean Air flight in New York after she was served macadamia nuts which she did not ask for, and which were still in a bag, not in a bowl.

She confronted both the flight attendant who served her and chief steward Park Chang-jin about the presentation, at one point jabbing Mr Park with a service manual.

Cho then ordered the plane, which was taxiing at JFK Airport, to return to the terminal to offload Mr Park.

Cho had been in custody since she was arrested on 30 December. In February she was convicted and sentenced to one year in jail.

One of the judges on the appeal panel said on Friday that they had taken into consideration that she was a first time offender.

"It appears that she will have to live under heavy criticism from society, and stigma," he said.

The case attracted intense attention in South Korea, reopening 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.