Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and Tom Collier, a former executive, are under a U.S. federal grand jury investigation after Mr. Collier was captured on tape saying his close political connections would help the company secure federal approval to build a massive new mine in Alaska.
In a news release, Northern Dynasty said its U.S. subsidiary, Pebble Limited Partnership, and Mr. Collier, the former CEO of Pebble, have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska to produce documents in connection with the investigation.
In the U.S., grand juries are assembled by prosecutors to determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue formal charges. The Vancouver-based copper and gold exploration company said the probe appears to be centered on private conversations executives had about its gold and copper project called Pebble as it was undergoing a final review by the U.S. government.
In September, Mr. Collier was forced to resign after surreptitious recordings surfaced in which he suggested his close personal relationship with the Governor of Alaska meant the Pebble project was likely to move forward. The recordings were obtained after an environmental group hired actors to pose as prospective Asian institutional investors.
“I’ve flown down to Juneau, where the Governor’s mansion is, and had private dinners with him in the mansion,” Mr. Collier said to the fake investors. “The Governor and I are pretty good friends.”
He also talked up his influence with members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which at the time was tasked with reviewing the company’s mine application.
Mr. Collier could not be reached for comment for this story.
A representative with the Alaska U.S. Attorney’s Office said the Department of Justice does not comment on grand jury investigations.
“What I can tell you with absolute conviction is we believe the discussions we had with unknown individuals posing as investors last summer were consistent with the company’s prior disclosure to financial markets,” Ron Thiessen, CEO of Northern Dynasty, said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Thiessen was also secretly recorded by the environmentalists. In one conversation, he said the life of the Pebble mine could eventually exceed 200 years, or more than 122 years longer than a estimate published by the company in 2011.
“Northern Dynasty has long said that, while the Pebble Partnership seeks to permit a project with a 20-year mine life, that operation would develop less than 11 per cent of the known mineral resource,“ Mr. Thiessen said.
“The company has no formal or approved plan for subsequent phases of development at Pebble, and acknowledges that any such plan would require an additional intensive, multiyear federal/state permitting process to proceed. With those caveats, we have been clear and consistent that Pebble could support additional decades of mining.”
In November, two months after the tapes were made public, the USACE shot Pebble down, concluding the mine would likely result in significant degradation of the aquatic ecosystem. Situated in the Bristol Bay region in southwestern Alaska, Pebble is near one of the world’s biggest populations of sockeye salmon.
Last month, Northern Dynasty filed an appeal with USACE to try to overturn the decision.
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