Japan and Pacific nations the Marshall Islands and Kiribati have denied trading cash and favors for votes in support of Tokyo on whaling, ahead of a crunch meeting next week in Morocco.
Britain's Sunday Times reported that officials from St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Guinea and Ivory Coast were willing to discuss selling their votes at the International Whaling Commission.
The newspaper said officials had voted with the pro-whaling bloc because of Japanese aid, or because they were offered inducements including cash, call girls and funding to attend whaling meetings.
The report emerged ahead of a crucial IWC meeting in Morocco next week where a compromise proposal will be put forward to end a 24-year-old moratorium on commercial whaling.
Limited whaling would be allowed, although numbers permitted to be killed would be cut sharply from current levels progressively over the next decade.
Japan on Thursday denied the claims in the Sunday Times.
"It is a fact that Japan as a country never pays money to buy votes for the IWC," said a Japanese Fisheries Agency official who declined to be named.
Asked about the allegation Japan had paid for call girls for envoys, the official said: "I cannot believe anything like that."
Each country "makes their own decision" on how to vote at the IWC, he said. "There are many countries that support the sustainable use of whales. Japan's aid for countries is provided regardless of their support for whaling."
Marshall Islands Foreign Minister John Silk said Wednesday that the newspaper had falsified or distorted information.
The Marshall Islands' vote at the IWC "is not for sale," Silk said in a statement.
"The Marshall Islands is a sovereign nation and, as such, determines its own government policies," he said. "The Marshall Islands' policy on whaling is not based on the aid from Japan or any other country."
The Sunday Times said its reporters posed as representatives of a fictional Swiss billionaire who was offering an aid package to persuade the countries to shift to the anti-whaling camp at next week's IWC meeting.
In a reported transcript of an exchange between a reporter and Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority official Doreen deBrum, she confirmed the country's vote in support of Japan was related to aid.
"We support Japan because of what they give us," she was quoted as saying, although she later denied this when the newspaper revealed its purpose.
Radio Australia reported Kiribati had also denied the allegations.
The secretary of Kiribati's Ministry for Fisheries and Marine Resources and Development, Ribanataaket Awira, said the country's position on whaling was unrelated to aid.
"The relationship we have with Japan is based on our fishing bilateral arrangement which we have had with them for over 30 years," he said, according to Radio Australia.
"So the aid that we receive from Japan is part of that arrangement and it has nothing to do with whaling."
Palau's president Johnson Toribiong said last week his country would support a return to restricted commercial whaling, following a visit from a Japanese envoy earlier this month.
Palau has traditionally supported Japan's position on whaling, and Toribiong said Japan would be paying for a two-person Palau delegation to travel to Morocco for the IWC meeting.
Anti-whaling countries oppose the compromise proposal and Japan has argued the plan should be changed to increase the number of whales it would be allowed to kill.
Japan now hunts whales under a loophole to the 1986 moratorium that allows lethal "scientific research" on the sea mammals, while Norway and Iceland defy the moratorium altogether.