ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A one-time Alaska restaurateur has been charged with helping illegally move more than $1 billion in Iranian money around the world in an elaborate conspiracy to evade sanctions.
Kenneth Zong, 77, is accused of plotting with four others — three Iranian nationals and a U.S. citizen — to get around restrictions by setting up phony business transactions to sell marble tiles in Iran, federal prosecutors said.
They say Zong — who is a naturalized U.S. citizen from South Korea — netted somewhere between $10 million and $17 million for his role in the scam. Federal authorities had previously seized more than 20 homes around Anchorage, luxury cars, jewelry and yacht they say Zong had acquired using the illicit proceeds.
Zong is currently incarcerated in South Korea on charges related to the plot.
Prosecutors allege that from January 2011 through at least April 2014, Zong and his co-conspirators worked to move roughly $1 billion of Iranian money from Korean bank accounts and convert them into tradeable currencies, such as dollars and euros, defrauding Korean regulators into thinking the transactions were legitimate in the process.
The Alaska Dispatch News reported that Zong had gotten involved in the plot through his son Mitchell Zong, who while at Colorado State University, met Majid Fasoodeh, an Iranian associated with Farsoodeh & Partnership, company linked to individuals working for the government of Iran.
The ploy involved Zong using his Korean-registered company, Anchore, to fictitiously sell marble tile and other construction material to an Iranian shell company on Kish Island in Iran, a free trade where foreign investment was allowed to occur.
Using false bills of lading and invoices, Zong was able to transfer Iranian cash into the accounts of his South Korean company, where he would transfer it into dollars or euros and then wired it to accounts controlled by Iranian individuals around the world.
Zong is also charged with 43 counts of money laundering related to efforts to obscure the origin of his multi-million dollar by acquiring real estate and other luxury items.
Zong and his wife, Kilja, ran the Phillips International Inn and Trattoria Bella restaurants in Anchorage until 2006.. After that he became involved in selling surplus Alaska pink salmon to Korea, as well as various other businesses.
Zong was convicted in Korea for breaking its foreign exchange and customs laws by filing false import and export documents. U.S. prosecutors hope to extradite him back to the U.S. to face trial, but it is unclear when that might happen.