Tong Soo Chung, Prominent Korean Lawyer, Behind Matinee Energy Solar-Power Fraud in Arizona, Lawsuit Says; Matinee Also Faces 2nd Suit by Chinese Panel Maker
|Tong Soo Chung, a prominent South Korea lawyer and former public official, is tied to alleged fraud by Tucson's Matinee Energy solar-power company, a lawsuit states.|
Our April 12 feature article on Matinee Energy explained why its highly touted plans to build a major solar-panel farm in Benson were probably nothing more than hot air. As we mentioned then: "The company's penchant for extreme secrecy makes it hard to tell what Matinee is really up to, why it reportedly has misrepresented itself, and who would lose money if its ventures fail."
Now we may know the answer to the last question: According to the new lawsuit, Matinee Energy officials stole $1.6 million from JES Solar of Korea for the purported Benson project.
And if the lawsuit is correct, then Tong Soo Chung -- a well-known political and business figure in Korea -- was a key figure in that fraud.
|A New Times source says this is a picture of Tong Soo Chung pouring wine at Matinee Energy's bogus "ground-breaking ceremony" in Benson back in October.|
He did not return e-mails from New Times seeking comment. A New Times reader sent us a picture that purportedly shows Tong attending one of last year's bogus "ground-breaking" ceremonies in Benson. We can't confirm that's Tong in the picture; we sent it to Tong by e-mail and, again, he has not replied.
JES Solar, founded in Korea in 2007, states in its lawsuit (see below) that Tong's "presence and purported involvement" in Matinee Energy influenced JES' decision to advance $1.6 million to Matinee.
The money was supposed to give JES a partial ownership in what Matinee claimed would be a $160 million solar project. In reality, the lawsuit states, Matinee "lacked sufficient funds" to build the plant at all.
Matinee officials including Chin Kim and Paul Jeong led JES Solar to believe that JP Morgan Chase was on board to lend Matinee the capital it needed. At Matinee's October 2011 ceremony in a patch of desert in Benson, Chin introduced Tong Soo Chung as "Matinee's official agent for the Asia region."
At the ceremony, Chin "sobbed and hugged ... Tong and engaged in other theatrics to express their enthusiasm and gratitude for the solar plant project," the lawsuit states.
JES wants its $1.6 million back but is seeking a total court award of $4 million from Matinee.
It makes sense that someone with Tong's credentials might be be involved with Matinee -- after all, the company at one point had signed contracts with Hyundai Heavy, the world's largest shipbuilder, and KEPCO KDN, Korea's national IT company, for Arizona solar projects. Those deals, as our previous story explained, are now dead.
After Matinee began making excuses in November 2011 for its failure to secure the JP Morgan financing, JES began investigating Matinee, the lawsuit says. JES soon came upon our August 2010 article about Matinee Energy, which referenced Matinee Energy's connection to a gold-mining scam from the 1980s. No doubt, it would have been better to find that article before making the decision to give Matinee $1.6 million.
We'll keep you posted on how that lawsuit progresses. It's actually the second suit against Matinee in as many months. On July 31, Chinese solar-panel maker Lightway sued Matinee for $4.4 million in federal court in New Jersey.
Lightway says in its suit that it shipped 20 million watts of polycrystalline solar panels to a Tucson warehouse rented by Matinee but that Matinee never made an agreed-upon 10 percent down payment for them.