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Korean Air chief dies in LA hospital

Controversial chairman ousted from carrier two weeks ago after activist challenge

Korean Air Lines Chairman Cho Yang-ho is seen here attending court in 2018 when he was indicted for embezzling corporate funds.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- The controversial chairman of Korean Air Lines, Cho Yang-ho, died in a Los Angeles hospital on Sunday, the company announced on Monday.

Cho, who was also chairman of Hanjin Group, one of South Korea's biggest family conglomerates, died of lung disease. He was 70. 

Cho presided over a turbulent time at Korean Air, which has been hit by a series of scandals involving his family. 

The Cho family hit global headlines in 2014 when Cho Hyun-ah, the chairman's daughter and a vice president of Korean Air, forced a plane to return to its departure gate because she was upset at the way her nuts had been served. She was later charged with obstructing aviation safety and jailed.

More recently, family members, including the chairman, have been caught up in scandals involving allegations of bribery, embezzlement and smuggling. Last year Cho was indicted on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust. He denied the charges against him.

Hanjin too has faced a challenge from South Korea's first domestic activist fund, Korea Corporate Governance Improvement, which has called for the airline's parent company to set up an independent committee to appoint top management. KCGI is also pushing the Hanjin Group to sell its underperforming hotel chain and cut debt in a bid to drive value for investors.

The fund late last year took a significant stake in Hanjin KAL, the holding entity that owns the airline.

Cho's death came two weeks after he was ousted from the boardroom of the country's largest airline for his alleged embezzlement of corporate funds. 

The late Hanjin chairman had worked in the airline industry all his life since his father Cho Choong-hoon acquired and privatized Korean Air 50 years ago. Cho Yang-ho was named the airline's chairman and CEO in 1999.

He was survived by his wife, Lee Myung-hee, and son Won-tae, daughters, Hyun-ah and Hyun-min and five grandsons.

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