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Opposition camp pressures Finance Ministry to punish Junichi Fukuda over alleged sex harassment

Kyodo

Opposition parties on Monday pushed the Finance Ministry to punish its top official by blocking his eligibility for full retirement benefits in the wake of sexual harassment allegations leveled by a journalist.

Despite denying the allegations, Junichi Fukuda offered last week to step down as administrative vice finance minister, claiming the accusation was preventing him from doing his job.

But opposition lawmakers demanded the ministry take some kind of punitive action against Fukuda within the day and before his resignation is accepted.

At a hearing convened by opposition lawmakers, ministry officials said Fukuda, 58, will receive around ¥53 million in benefits if he retires without being punished. His resignation could be formalized on Tuesday after a Cabinet meeting.

After stepping down, public officials are no longer subject to punitive action and thus eligible to receive their retirement packages in full.

The retirement allowance of a civil servant is typically calculated based on length of service and other factors. Fukuda entered the ministry in 1982.

Any disciplinary measures might include dismissal or a pay cut.

But if Fukuda cannot be punished anytime soon, the opposition wants the ministry to freeze his resignation and keep him employed.

The request will be conveyed to Finance Minister Taro Aso, who has authority over personnel issues.

The opposition camp also asked that the ministry require Fukuda apologize to his alleged victim.

Earlier this month, weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reported that Fukuda made sexually suggestive remarks to female reporters. It also released an audio clip of Fukuda allegedly asking a female reporter if he could give her a kiss and a hug.

Television network TV Asahi said that one of its employees had been sexually harassed by Fukuda and that she submitted an audio recording of the incident to the weekly.

Fukuda announced his intention to resign last week and said he was preparing to file a libel suit against the magazine’s publisher.

The latest scandal at the Finance Ministry has thrown the Diet into disarray, with the opposition boycotting Diet sessions and calling for Aso to step down.

The ministry, once regarded as the most powerful in the government, has come under fire recently for mismanaging and falsifying documents on the suspicious sale of state land to a nationalist school operator in Osaka linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife.

Aside from the harassment allegation itself, the Finance Ministry’s response has drawn fire as well. It asked reporters who feel they were sexually harassed by Fukuda to come forward and contact its lawyers to investigate their complaints, arguing it cannot determine whether certain behavior constitutes harassment without the testimony of the victims.

Politicians, lawyers and supporters of harassment victims say the ministry’s approach lacks sensitivity and neutrality.