Top finance official denies sexual harassment; vows to sue publisher

By Tetsushi Kajimoto and Chang-Ran Kim

Japan's top finance bureaucrat denied on Monday a weekly magazine's allegation that he had sexually harassed female reporters and vowed to sue its publisher for defamation, his ministry said in a statement.

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 had quoted Fukuda as denying the allegations.

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.

A day after the report, the tabloid released an audio recording of what it said was Fukuda making the alleged sexual advance.

The Finance Ministry, in its statement, quoted Fukuda as saying: "I do at times go out for meals with both male and female reporters after working hours, but I have never had the kind of exchange with any female reporter that was reported in the magazine (or that was contained in the audio file)."

The ministry quoted Fukuda as saying he was preparing to sue the publisher, Shinchosha. He apologised to Finance Minister Taro Aso and other members of the ministry for "causing trouble", and vowed to continue carrying out his duties "with a sense of urgency".

Shinchosha told Reuters it would publish its response to the ministry statement in its next edition, out on Thursday.

"The article is totally based on facts," it said.

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.

The ministry said in its statement it would continue to investigate the allegations surrounding Fukuda through an external law firm, given that the initial internal fact-finding had been conducted by Fukuda's subordinate.

It called on female reporters to come forward and contact the law firm if they were willing to cooperate with the investigation.

Some women said they hoped the case would lead to more open discussion of sexual harassment.

"Japanese have a tendency to put up with things," said 20-year-old theatre worker Yuka Sekiguchi.

"I don't think we are in an environment where we can even speak up about being sexually harassed. I really hope that one day we will become a society in which we can speak up with courage about being sexually harassed."

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made his "Womenomics" programmes to mobilise women in the workforce part of his policies to boost growth, big gender gaps persist at companies and in politics.

The controversy is another headache for Finance Minister 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.

The daily Sankei newspaper reported on Monday that Abe had decided that Fukuda must be fired. It did not cite a source. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the ministry's personnel issues were up to the minister to decide.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2018.

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

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If it was recorded it is true, if not recorded he can just say he couldn’t remember. Creepy that people record you when you are drunk though.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

He is well known for this behaviour that's why it was recorded. He denies it but the recording would prove otherwise. Aso can't say much as he is hardly a morally based man himself.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Did he say it was not true before he knew there was a recording? Otherwise he is a real fool. I think these gossip rags are very prudent about what they publish. They must have something fairly substantive to publish this story.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

went drinking with a female reporter recently at a bar near his house 

This is some interesting context that I was not initially aware of.

Technically it would still be sexual harassment, but at least he wasn’t exactly ‘on the job’

i imagine he’ll attempt to deny by claiming the ‘can I touch your breasts’ comments were made by the drunk guy sitting over his shoulder...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It's still catch-22 for the reporter - she'll have to reveal her identity to substantiate the charges, and if she does she'll be blackballed - because she was harassed. Truly, a society where women can shine...shoes.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

J-Gov/Abe-Chan didn’t anticipate Womenomics included empowering Women.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I wonder if he will try to claim entrapment. He will say, she accepted the invitation only to record him and then when he drank too much and said something foolish she was already recording him, that is why it was caught on tape.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Beside weekly gossip magazine, there is opinion magazine Shincho that Japanese intellectuals read. Asou and Abe are in more trouble if they don't fire him.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

His response proves he is guilty. Now what may happen is other women come forward that he has also soft raped before. The LDP knows he is a hoser anyway, they must have to decide if he is worth fighting for when there are so many other fires of their own making to extinguish. The LDP, like the republican party in the USA, is corrupt to the core. The fixer Cohen paid $1.6 million to cover up an abortion of a playboy model jacked up by a top republican contributor. And the top republican fund raiser quit this job after paying off employees he raped was published. It just goes on and on with both the LDP and Republicans.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Who does this guy think he is, Trump? He can't say, "I have never had the kind of exchange that I can be heard doing in the audio file!" and seriously believe it'll fly. I hope he also understands that he is going to be bringing this to the public all the more with the lawsuit, and that when he loses things will be FAR worse for him. He may wish to "keep on working with greater urgency", but I have a feeling that the more publicity this gets the sooner he'll be asked to step down. He probably just should have stuck with the "I was drunk and don't remember" defense that always works here. This guy is scum, and I'm glad the woman and the tabloid have come out with it -- I only hope he pays for it and more women start coming forward. No one should put up with the crap they do here, and I KNOW they do it because I have witnessed it time and again.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

This guy is going to be thrown under the bus: everyone has had enough of the behaviour of finance ministry officials. I suggest these ministries start recruiting their staff from somewhere other than "elite" universities, as the current shower are hopeless.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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