Former Solomon Islands officials have admitted that Japan paid for the island’s pro-whaling vote, as investigations gain pace into the loss of millions of dollars in cash to the troubled country.
They said that Japan met the Solomons’ costs of attending International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings, and provided goods for local politicians at election time.
The Solomons’ Government said yesterday it was also thought that millions of dollars in cash paid by Japan and other countries for fishing rights made its way into the hands of some island officials.
Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research rejected claims of vote-buying, saying money may have been given by pro-whaling non-government organisations.
The Solomon Islands voted with Japan to lift the moratorium on commercial whaling at the commission meeting in Ulsan, South Korea last month contrary to a pledge by the country’s Prime Minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, to Australia’s Environment Minister, Ian Campbell.
Japan’s bid failed to reach a majority, let alone the necessary three quarters, but the Solomons’ vote angered Senator Campbell, who described it as “foul”. Sir Allan is yet to decide whether to sack his Fisheries Minister, Paul Maenu’u, who represented the Solomons at South Korea.
Conservation groups have long complained about Japan’s vote-buying at the commission. It now has the support of African, Caribbean and Pacific developing nations which, on paper, gave it a majority at Ulsan.
Only the failure of several of these nations to arrive for the meeting prevented Japan from winning a majority.
Japan has repeatedly denied claims it buys votes and has tried to have those green groups that make them, such as Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, thrown out of the commission.
The appearance of Nauru and Kiribati at Ulsan, alongside the Solomons and Tuvalu, heightened Australian concerns about Japan’s influence in the Pacific. Diplomats from each of these nations have denied that their votes had been bought by Japan.
Last night a former Solomons IWC commissioner, Albert Wata, detailed the payments on the ABC’s Four Corners program. “The Japanese pay the government subscriptions,” he said. “They support the delegations to meetings, in terms of meeting air fares and per diem [expenses].”
His claim was backed by a former Solomon Islands fisheries minister, Nelson Kile, who said Japan had been paying the fees for a decade.
Japan was also accused of paying part of the fees for the right to fish tuna there with goods at election time, such as boats and fishing gear. The permanent secretary to the Fisheries Department, Tione Bugotu, said: “It’s the general practice and an MP will pick up equipment, nets, tackle, fishing lines, hooks. They would then be responsible for distributing it.”
But Mr Bugotu said it was absolutely false to suggest that Japan poured money into the country in exchange for support at the commission and cheap access to tuna. He did confirm he was investigating the theft of millions of dollars paid for tuna fishing rights by Japan, Taiwan and Korea. “The money had been diverted elsewhere and certain officers chose to help themselves. It