18 July 2005

Japan accused of buying whaling votes

Japan has denied claims it is paying the expenses of countries in return for their support at the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

ABC TV's Four Corners program tonight reveals specific details of favours handed out by Japan to countries in the Caribbean and Pacific in exchange for support.

The former IWC representative for Solomon Islands says his country had its membership paid by Japan for at least 10 years and the program has also obtained a letter from Grenada's Government showing Japan covered all its expenses.

Grenada's former IWC commissioner Michael Baptiste was charged for allegedly pocketing the money in 2002 and he says such "vote buying" does occur.

"I would get to an airport and someone would meet you at the airport and pay for your expenses and give you money for your expenses," he said.

'"I can't say it's the Government of Japan because they wouldn't identify themselves, but individuals would do so, yes."

The tiny Caribbean nation of Dominica has been a member of the IWC since 1992 and for the past five years has used its IWC vote to support Japan's efforts to resume commercial whaling.

Dominica's former environment minister told Four Corners that he resigned from his position in 2000 after Japan allegedly bought his Government's vote with aid.

Atherton Martin says he had convinced his Cabinet not to vote with Japan in the IWC but that the then prime minister overturned in the decision because Japan said there would be no more aid without the vote.

"I don't think the international legal community has come up with a term yet to describe this blatant, purchasing of small country governments by Japan," he said.

"I mean, that has to go down in legal history as being at the high end of public sector extortion.

"I felt if it was that easy for a foreign government to walk into my country and with the promise of aid to get a cabinet decision to be reversed, in complete defiance of the elements of trust and comradeship that exists in the cabinet, that is not a process that I wanted to be a part of.

"I felt it was unfair to me as an individual, to the institution of government, and most importantly it was unfair to the people of Dominica."

No guarantee
Australia enjoys more support in the Pacific for its anti-whaling agenda and nations in the region do receive large amounts of Australian aid.

But being a big donor does not guarantee influence.

The Solomon Islands is heavily dependent on Australia for aid and security but last month it lined up with Japan at the IWC despite assurances it would either abstain or walk out of the room when the vote was due.

According to the country's fisheries chief, Japan poured money into the Solomons in exchange for support at the IWC and cheap access to tuna.

Tione Bugotu says he is now investigating the theft of millions of dollars paid to the fisheries department by the Japanese.

"The fact is that this is money, which is due to the Government of the Solomon Islands, as revenue through fisheries," he said.

"By law, the money should be paid directly into consolidated funds, and that was not what happened.

"Money had been diverted elsewhere and certain officers chose to help themselves. It became their personal funds."

Japan denies allegations of buying the votes of smaller poorer nations and IWC delegate Joji Morishita says he will look into the claims.

"I don't believe that happened," he said.

"That's a serious allegation I guess and we will look at this issue.

"Maybe you can give me some names you just stated, and we have the embassy there and we have tuna fisheries relations with these people, and we can talk about it with them and what was their intention and why they told you so."

Japan says it will continue its push for a return to whaling and expects to have the votes it needs when the IWC meets next year.

Source: www.abc.net.au


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