April 16, 2018
By Chang-Ran Kim
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided that a top finance ministry official accused of sexually harassing several female reporters must be fired, the daily Sankei newspaper reported on Monday, without citing a source.
The weekly Shincho magazine said in an issue published last Thursday that Administrative Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda went drinking with a female reporter recently at a bar near his house and asked to touch her breasts and kiss her. It quoted Fukuda as denying the allegations.
The issue could become another headache for Finance Minister Taro Aso and Abe, whose ratings have been hit by scandals over suspected cronyism and cover-ups. A steady trickle of new allegations about the scandals has raised doubts about how long Abe can stay in power.
Flanked by members of the media as he arrived at the finance ministry on Monday morning, Fukuda said: “I will issue a comment today so please look at that.”
Asked whether the statement was to tender his resignation, he said: “No, it isn’t. The comment will be about the (magazine) report.”
Japan has had few reported “#MeToo” cases about sexual harassment involving public figures. In Japan victims are often reluctant to speak out for fear of being blamed. The identity of the female reporter has not been disclosed.
The #MeToo global movement has exposed men accused of sexual assault and harassment in fields including entertainment, politics and business. Dozens of prominent men have quit or been fired from high-profile posts, and police have opened investigations into some accusations of sex assault.
While Abe has made his “Womenomics” programs to mobilize women in the workforce part of his policies to boost growth, big gender gaps persist at companies and in politics.
Finance Minister Aso told a parliamentary panel last week that Fukuda had spoken to him about the matter. According to Aso, Fukuda said he met many people in a private capacity and it was not possible to verify every interaction but that he would be careful not to “be misunderstood” from now on.
Aso admonished Fukuda but stopped short of imposing any punishment.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, additional reporting by Takashi Umekawa; Editing by Richard Pullin and Michael Perry)