By Steve Jackson
Japan has denied paying for delegates from small states to attend international whaling negotiations.
The statement follows a claim from the Solomon Islands that Tokyo had usually funded its attendance at meetings of the International Whaling Commission.
Anti-whaling campaigners have accused Japan of vote-buying to support its bid to end a ban on commercial whaling.
In recent years, a number of small countries have joined the IWC, many with little history of hunting whales.
One of these countries, the Solomon Islands, was conspicuously absent from a meeting called by the commission in London last week.
The islands' Prime Minister, Derek Sikua, said on Saturday that his country had not attended because it no longer wanted to accept Japanese assistance.
He said Japan had usually paid for the Solomon Islands to go, although he did not say how much money was involved.
This was the clearest statement yet from a serving leader on Japan's alleged financial role.
But a senior official at Japan's fisheries agency, Hideki Moronuki, told AFP news agency there was no truth to it.
"Japan has never made any offer at all to pay costs," he said, accusing Mr Sikua of being confused.
Australia says the Solomons government has now agreed to back its efforts to seek an international ban on scientific whaling expeditions, like the one Japan is currently engaged in.
The allegations over Japanese tactics at the International Whaling Commission are only likely to add to divisions over the future of whaling.