June 2010


Flights , Girls and Cash Buy Japan Whaling Votes 

THE official from the Republic of Guinea barely batted an eyelid when the English lobbyist made a highly irregular offer over coffee in a Barcelona hotel. She wanted to buy Guinea’s vote at the forthcoming International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting with an aid package.

Rather than protest at this blatant bribery, Ibrahima Sory Sylla, the national director of fisheries for Guinea, got straight on the telephone to his deputy minister. “I spoke to him [the minister] positively about your bargaining,” he reported back over lunch later that day, “time is pressed ... for us to make our decision.”

This was not a guarantee of success. The lobbyist had a formidable rival: the fisheries agency of Japan, which for years has been Guinea’s ally on the IWC.

Mr Sylla had already outlined the extent of Japan’s generosity to Guinea in terms of the cash it paid to his minister. He predicted Japan would make a good counter offer. 

Such backroom stitch-ups at the IWC have often been rumoured, but they have never before been captured on a video camera. The lobbyist was, in fact, an undercover reporter from the Sunday Times. 

Our recordings of the meetings with pro-whaling officials around the world reveal the secrets of a Japanese vote-buying operation that Tokyo has always denied. It also raises serious questions about the credibility of the IWC.

It comes as Japan is attempting to break the 24-year moratorium on commercial whaling with a proposal to introduce fishing quotas at the IWC meeting in Agadir, Morocco, a week tomorrow.

Japan, Norway and Iceland have killed 35,000 whales since the moratorium was introduced. In Japan’s case, the killings have been justified as “scientific research” although whale meat is eaten in dishes such as sashimi.

If the Morocco proposal is successful, the whaling nations will be able to catch a total of 1,800 whales a year including two endangered species, fin and sei. Scientific whaling will be stopped but campaigners fear the new quotas may open the way for a return to the widespread whaling that almost destroyed some species in the 1980s. For Japan it is the culmination of a long campaign to win support for whaling by recruiting small impoverished nations on to the IWC.

Japan is believed to have the backing of at least 38 of the IWC’s 88 members, including three landlocked countries. It needs 75% of the vote but could be helped by disunity in the European Union whose predominantly anti-whaling countries may abstain if they cannot reach a unanimous agreement.

To find out about the secret deals which patch together Japan’s alliance of African, Asian, Pacific and Caribbean states, The Sunday Times approached the key ministers and fisheries officials from those countries in an undercover investigation. Two reporters posed as lobbyists who had been hired by Dr Hans Kruber, a fictional Swiss billionaire philanthropist who had created the European development fund for fisheries.

Our proposal was designed to mirror the alleged tactics of the Japanese. Government officials were told we were putting together a coalition of countries who would vote against whaling. They were each offered £25m in aid over 10 years from Kruber’s fund and all they had to do was vote against the whaling quotas at the Morocco meeting.

Six countries indicated they were willing to consider our offer and went away to discuss it with senior officials and ministers. They were St Kitts and Nevis, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Ivory Coast and Guinea. Even more revealing were officials’ revelations about their relations with Japan.

Sylla, a veteran of his fisheries department, explained his country had little interest in whales but had been persuaded to become a member of the IWC by Japan 10 years ago.

He said Guinea voted with Japan partly because of fears that whales were consuming fish, a dubious argument that is promoted by Japanese scientists.

An equally important reason for his country’s support was financial. “Japan supports our position commercially,” he said. He was not just referring to the millions in fisheries aid that Japan has given Guinea over the years.

The reporters asked Sylla what other payments they would have to make to match the financial assistance offered by Japan. There were several.

Japan, Sylla revealed, pays Guinea’s £7,900 annual IWC membership fee as well as funding his country’s attendance at the meetings. Travel, hotels and meals were all paid for and each delegate receives up to $300 a day spending money. The average annual wage in Guinea is $1,000.

On the occasions that Guinea’s minister attends as the IWC commissioner, he or she is provided with a car by Japan and spending money. “Minimum, you understand minimum? Maybe one thousand [dollars] a day,” Sylla said.

The cash is handed over by Japanese officials at meetings in envelopes. Sylla said that at some meetings he was given the money for the minister.

Reporter: And then you give it to the minister?

Sylla: Yes. Not straight to the minister.

Reporter: Why not?

Sylla: You know, you know, the minister is a political man.

Reporter: So they don’t want it to seem like they are corrupting the minister.

Sylla: C’est ça. Exactly.

On Friday the Guinea fisheries ministry denied Japan had paid any money to its delegates and claimed Sylla was not involved in IWC matters. Sylla was briefly put on the phone to say he had made everything up.

However, a reporter who telephoned the ministry earlier to check Sylla’s credentials was told he attended IWC meetings and had recently been at preparatory talks for Morocco as a stand-in IWC commissioner.

Japan’s ministry of foreign affairs said: “The government of Japan does not cover any cost of any other IWC member countries related to the IWC.”

However, other countries appear to have deals with Japan. Michael Bootii, deputy director for the ministry of fisheries at Kiribati, a tiny Pacific island that always votes with Japan, was also at the meeting in Barcelona.

He agreed to meet the reporters for coffee after first checking with his minister. Bootii described the reporters’ offer to buy his country’s vote with aid as “attractive”.

He said his ministers would “weigh” the offer against the aid provided by Japan, which is building ice plants to store fish on each of Kiribati’s 33 islands. The decision appeared to have little to do with whaling and was all about money. “I think we will have to see what we get. At the end of the day it’s the benefit, yeah.”

When asked if his ministers would use the reporters’ offer as a bargaining counter with Japan, he replied: “That’s what will happen.”

He, too, confirmed that Japan pays for hotels, business class flights, subsistence and even a “transit allowance” for his country’s delegates at the IWC. They had already offered to pay for Kiribati’s IWC commissioner at Morocco.

Despite Japan’s denials, Bootii confirmed on Friday, after being confronted by The Sunday Times, that it did fund his delegation during IWC trips. “Assistance given to Kiribati by Japan are part of Japanese aid and ongoing support to Kiribati and this includes the cost of the trip to any overseas conference,” he wrote in an email. During the meeting he went further, stating that most of the Pacific islands IWC members were financed by the Japanese. In particular he named Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.

The reporters had dined with Panapasi Nelsone, Tuvalu’s IWC commissioner, in London a few weeks earlier. Nelsone said his country’s pro-whaling stance had not been linked to the £10m a year it receives in aid fisheries from Japan. But when it came to paying for his IWC trips, he was quite clear: “If Japan wants us to vote on an issue similar to our position, like sustainable use, then why can’t they pay for me? ... If you want us to vote for you, you have to help me to attend that meeting.”

Doreen de Brum, the chief fishing policy adviser to the Marshall Islands, was the next official to meet the reporters. She seemed keen on taking up the reporters’ offer of aid to switch the vote.

Reporter: Do you think ... that would create a problem with Japan and maybe cease their funding?

De Brum: I don’t know, seriously, but I think that’s why we do have the position that we have. It is because of that aid.

Reporter: What, you support whaling because of the aid that Japan gives you?

De Brum: Yeah. We support Japan because of what they give us.

She went on say that the other Pacific islands also supported Japan’s whaling position because of the money they received. “Aid, the aid, that’s it,” she said.

After being told of The Sunday Times undercover investigation on Friday, she returned to the customary public line of the Pacific islands pro-whalers. “The Marshall Islands’ policy on whaling is not decided based on the aid Japan or any other country provides,” she wrote.

Another bloc of pro-whaling countries are the east Caribbean islands of St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent, Antigua, Barbuda and the Grenadines.

St Kitts and Nevis, one of the world’s smallest countries, has a population of 50,000. The former British colony depends heavily on aid as its sugar industry has collapsed.

Timothy Harris, the country’s marine resources minister who is also its IWC commissioner, was only too keen to discuss the undercover reporters’ proposal. The first meeting took place in the cramped government offices in Basseterre, the island’s capital. With a senior civil servant taking notes, Harris explained that Japan provided finance for a number of fish-related infrastructure projects and was paying for a new fish market in Nevis. He promised to raise the reporters’ offer to buy St Kitts’s vote with the cabinet but added there might be concern that Japan could pull the plug on its aid if St Kitts switched sides.

Harris: “Right now we are working on a project for a new complex ... so if you were to do something, we’d want to ensure that is not jeopardised.

Reporter: Not jeopardised. Why?

Harris: It’s being funded by Japan.

Shortly after the meeting, Harris rang the reporters and invited them to lunch. Over conch balls in a restaurant overlooking the beach, he was far more candid. In front of his civil servant earlier he had taken the customary Japanese line that whales were eating “significant proportions” of St Kitts’s fish stocks. Now he admitted this was unlikely: “I’m not sure that we have whales, or at least many.”

The St Kitts interest in the whaling issue was “minimal” but it participated in the IWC because it could have “direct benefits” and also out of solidarity for St Vincent which still allows a small amount of indigenous whaling.

Harris said he had been selected to speak on behalf of his fellow east Caribbean's at a crucial meeting in Grenada last month with Japan’s IWC commissioner and ambassador. He said the islands were angry because they were suffering “reputational damage” by supporting Japan’s pro-whaling stance. Harris was asked to argue that the Japanese should come up with a proposal for compensation ahead of the Morocco vote. The islands wanted Japan to fund wider development projects rather than just fisheries.

Reporter: And were they [the islands] threatening not to support Japan in the IWC vote?

Harris: No, they didn’t put it as that, because I don’t think it might have been diplomatic to say. But if you say to a country or some partner this is matter that is important to me ... and they consistently refuse to help you, then they are leaving you with no choice.

Harris had promised to debate the reporters’ proposal in cabinet and was planning to stop off in London this week to discuss the offer further.

Similarly, Grenada was last week considering the reporters’ offer following a meeting with Michael Lett, fisheries minister and IWC commissioner, and Daniel Lewis, the chief agriculture officer. Later Lewis wrote in an email: “I am glad that your coalition has considered Grenada as a potential recipient of the aid offer.”

In Africa, the Ivory Coast appeared to be interested in the reporters’ offer and was mulling it over last week.

Seydou Coulibaly, Mali’s fisheries minister, was not as keen because he said that whales were threatening his country’s food supplies by eating so many fish. Quite how this could be so is a mystery: Mali is landlocked.

There was little question that Tanzania would change its traditional loyalty to Japan. Over dinner in Barcelona, Geoffrey Nanyaro, its IWC commissioner, explained that five of the seven key people in his fisheries department spoke Japanese because they were educated there. He said Japan paid fisheries officials £22,000 a year in tuition fees and living costs while they studied there. In addition, he said Japan had given his country £80m in fisheries aid in the past two years.

Nanyaro said aid given to Tanzania was not linked to the whaling vote, but he feared the country might lose the funding if it voted against the Japanese. However, he believed other African pro-whaling countries were more directly influenced. Reporter: What do the Japanese do for them [the other African countries] that keeps them in their pockets?

Nanyaro: It is aid.

He said that Japan “secretively” paid the tickets and hotels for the IWC delegates from different countries. They were also, he claimed, taken on all-expenses-paid visits to Japan where “good girls” would be available. He always turned them down.

Reporter: So you think the other countries’ representatives are set up with prostitutes from Japan?

Nanyaro: Yes, you know, yeah ... It starts by saying: do you want massaging? ... It’s going to be free massaging. Are you not lonely? You don’t want any comfort?”

Hunting myths

Pro-whaling nations have perpetuated myths to justify their killing:

Whales eat too many fish Some scientists say whales reduce fish stocks, leaving less for humans. Japan has even suggested that whales consume six times the world’s commercial fish catch.

Other researchers say this is nonsense. The seas were teeming with both fish and whales for millennia — until humans came along. The key change was the arrival of steam power, which allowed trawlers to plunder the oceans.

Whaling is humane Whalers say they use explosive harpoons to kill the animals “quickly”, but the International Whaling Commission estimates that death takes an average of 14 minutes if harpooned accurately — and potentially hours if not.

Whales that do not die immediately are supposed to be shot with rifles. However, Greenpeace campaigners who have witnessed such incidents say some creatures are dragged backwards until they drown.

Whaling has a cultural heritage Japan, Norway and Iceland have a long history of small-scale coastal whaling (as did Britain), but this is a far cry from the modern industrialised version. A Greenpeace-commissioned opinion poll in 2006 found that 69% of Japan’s population was against whaling and only 5% ate whale meat.

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