Alaskan politicians investigated for 'taking favours from oil companies'
Alaska's permafrost is melting faster than anywhere else on earth, but a political meltdown now threatens its Republican leaders with the state's entire Congressional delegation under investigation for corruption.
Even Senator Ted Stevens, 83 years of age and 39 years in office, is being investigated for favours he allegedly received from an oil company, in the form of a luxurious extension to his Alaskan home.
Now that Congress is in recess, "Uncle Ted", as he is known, is back in town, flatly denying any wrongdoing. Last month, the FBI searched Senator Stevens's house for clues to his friendship with a businessman already convicted of bribing local politicians.
His son, Ben, is also accused of accepting bribes when he was serving as president of the State Senate. However, neither Uncle Ted nor his son have been charged to date.
The corruption allegations are as crass as they get, with oil industry lobbyists accused of passing out envelopes stuffed with cash on the very floor of the state legislature.
Alaska's US senators then allegedly funnelled government money back to the companies, and the lobbyists who were doling out the favours.
Alaska's economy is based on making vast amounts of money from government-owned lands. The politicians control access to these lands and anyone keen to make a buck first makes a beeline to Juneau, the state capital, or to Alaska's representatives in Washington DC.
Last year the FBI began investigating bribes paid by an oil company called Veco and raided the offices of six state legislators. They are trying to establish whether the politicians are taking bribes from Veco and other associated companies in return for government contracts.
The investigation has led to one state-level politician being convicted of bribe taking, while four lobbyists are up on charges of handing them out. Votes in the Juneau state senate were allegedly being directed by oil industry lobbyists and at one stage a lobbyist was spotted handing voting instructions across the barrier between lawmakers and the public.
The political crisis has disgusted many in Alaska, but Senator Stevens is standing firm,. This week he dismissed the investigation saying he was proud of his record, "regardless of the slings and arrows I've faced attacking what I've tried to do for Alaskans in Alaska".