Senior official resigns over sexual harassment allegations
A senior Japanese finance ministry official resigned yesterday over sexual misconduct allegations in the latest embarrassment for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's embattled government, already hit by cronyism and other scandals.
Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda denied the allegations but submitted his resignation, citing difficulties carrying out his duties because of escalating criticism and attention.
Last week, the weekly Shincho magazine published sexually suggestive remarks that Fukuda allegedly made to an unidentified female reporter earlier this year. The magazine released parts of what it said was an audio recording of Fukuda's remarks and alleged that he routinely made similar comments to female reporters in private conversations.
The finance ministry has launched an investigation and is urging the alleged victim to come forward, saying it needs to hear from both sides to determine whether there was sexual misconduct. Women's rights groups and lawmakers have accused the investigators of lacking sensitivity and privacy awareness, and demanded that Fukuda's boss, Finance Minister Taro Aso, also step down.
Aso has said the voice sounded like Fukuda's and the comments might once have passed unquestioned but are now not acceptable. But he added that Fukuda could not be held accountable for sexual misconduct until the remarks' context and the alleged victim are known.
"Because no victim has come out, there is only a wrongdoer who has been put on the spot, and it's a one-sided story," Aso said. "Fukuda could be the victim instead of a wrongdoer."
Late Wednesday, TV Asahi announced that the woman was its reporter and had recorded the conversation as evidence. It said she provided the recording to the magazine after her own boss said it would be difficult to report the incident on the TV network. It did not release the reporter's name.