(Adds context from audio, details on scandal)
LIMA, May 11 (Reuters) - Peru’s energy and mines minister said on Monday that she has halted talks with Southern Copper Corp over its stalled $1.4 billion Tia Maria project until the miner explains its role in possible “wrongdoing.”
The government summoned German Larrea, the chief executive officer of Southern Copper’s parent company, Grupo Mexico , to the capital Lima to clarify the matter.
Energy and Mines Minister Rosa Ortiz said her suspicions of wrongdoing stem from audio recordings in which a man is heard offering to stop to violent protests against the project in exchange for money from the company.
Reuters could not confirm the authenticity of the audio recordings, which a local lawyer has said represent his conversations with a lead opponent of Tia Maria in a bid to mediate a solution.
Ortiz said she wants the company to explain its involvement in the scandal, which threatens to further obstruct plans for the 120,000-tonnes-per-year project.
“I have suspended talks with Southern until it clarifies its participation in this wrongdoing,” Ortiz said in an email to Reuters.
“Today I requested the presence of Mr. Larrea, owner of the company, in Lima with the aim of clarifying this matter,” she said. “I am waiting for him to confirm when he will arrive.”
Southern Copper did not respond to requests for comment. But in a full-page ad published in Peru’s biggest newspaper, El Comercio, the miner denied wrongdoing.
“Southern Copper is not involved in illegal acts,” it said.
In the recordings, the lawyer, Jesus Gomez, who has previously worked with Southern Copper, is heard brokering a bribe on behalf of the company if opponents call off protests.
Gomez said in an interview with local daily La Republica that Southern Copper told him it had no interest in such a deal but that he should play along.
The government has accused the Tia Maria opponent in question, Pepe Julio Gutierrez, of extortion. Gutierrez has denied that he is the person in the audio.
Southern Copper said Gomez was never asked to mediate the conflict.
“His actions are his exclusive responsibility,” the company said.
Three people have been killed and more than 200 injured in recent rallies calling for the cancellation of Tia Maria. On Saturday Peru sent the military to the region, Arequipa, to end unrest.
Opponents say the proposed mine will pollute nearby farming valleys. The company has said it will use the highest environmental standards. (Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Richard Lough, Chris Reese, David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)