The top bureaucrat at the Finance Ministry said Monday he plans to sue a weekly magazine after it alleged he repeatedly harassed several female journalists with sexually suggestive language.
“I don’t think I uttered unpleasant words to a female reporter that can be labeled as sexual harassment,” Administrative Vice Minister Junichi Fukuda said in a statement.
The ministry, meanwhile, said it will ask an independent lawyer to continue investigating the allegations made by Shukan Shincho magazine and Fukuda’s denials.
In a rare move, the ministry also urged any reporters who think they were harassed by Fukuda as described by the story to come forward.
“We will respond in a responsible manner so (the investigation) will not cause problems for those who cooperated,” the ministry said in a statement.
It also asked the reporters to directly contact the lawyer, rather than the ministry, to ensure the investigation remains neutral.
The article run by Shukan Shincho in its latest issue quotes several unidentified female reporters as saying Fukuda repeatedly harassed them by making unpleasant sexual remarks during one-on-one meetings.
Following Fukuda’s initial denial, the magazine posted a clip on YouTube in which the voice of a man believed to Fukuda can be heard in a conversation with someone described as a female journalist.
The comments made by the man included: “Can I touch your breast?” “Should we have an affair when the budget is enacted?” and “I will tie your hands.”
The voice of the supposed journalist was erased by Shukan Shincho to protect her privacy. The weekly claimed she repeatedly asked Fukuda to stop the conversation, quoting her remarks from the recorded conversation, which were rendered in subtitles in the YouTube file.
Fukuda was apparently trying to take advantage of journalists’ desire for information, the magazine alleged.
In the ministry-issued statement, Fukuda said he did not have any conversations as alleged with any female journalist, although he might have “played with words” at an entertainment establishment where “women serve customers.”
The harassment scandal, if true, will further weaken the political clout of the ministry, which has seen its reputation heavily damaged by the document-tampering scandal involving ultra-nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which once had close ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie.
In the meantime, the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun reported in a front-page story the same day that the prime minister has determined that Fukuda’s dismissal “is inevitable.”
The daily did not say how it obtained the information.
Having joined the Finance Ministry in 1982, Fukuda took the position of administrative vice minister in July last year after playing several key roles at the ministry, including head of the Budget Bureau.