Alaska’s US attorney is investigating something about Pebble, but the target is unclear

Man in car. Subtitle quotes him saying "you aren't held to your promises"
Ron Thiessen, CEO of Pebble’s parent company, was secretly recorded talking to men he thought were investors. (Environmental Investigation Agency)

The parent company of the proposed Pebble Mine said it’s cooperating with a federal grand jury investigation. The company said the case relates to conversations about the mine that were secretly recorded. But who is being investigated, and for what alleged crime, is not clear.

The company, British Columbia-based Northern Dynasty, issued a statement Friday that leaves a lot unanswered. It said the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alaska issued subpoenas to Pebble Limited Partnership and its former CEO, Tom Collier, requiring them to hand over certain documents.

The statement said the investigation appears related to “previously disclosed recordings of private conversations regarding the Pebble Project.”

That seems to describe the so-called Pebble Tapes, undercover recordings produced last year by an environmental group.

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The mining company’s statement doesn’t say whether the investigation is aimed at the environmental group for making the tapes, or whether the target might be the mine executives, for what they said on those recordings.

The group, called the Environmental Investigation Agency, had investigators call Northern Dynasty last year, posing as foreign investors. In multiple recordings, Collier and Northern Dynasty president Ron Thiessen bragged about their close relationships to regulators and downplayed all hurdles to getting their permits. They also described plans for a much bigger mine than the one they’re seeking permits for. 

RELATED: New Pebble tapes: ‘You aren’t held to your promises’ in election season, mine exec says

After the recordings were made public in September, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington called for the Justice Department to investigate Pebble for discrepancies in how Pebble described the size of the mine to Congress and in the permit applications, compared to what they told men they thought were investors.

The Environmental Investigation Agency declined to comment for this story. It said last fall the recordings complied with all relevant laws. In most U.S. states and in Canada, it is generally legal to record conversations as long as one party to the conversation is aware of it.

Pebble and the U.S. Attorney’s office also declined to comment.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz