Sexual Harassment Scandal Forces Top Japan Official to Quit

(Bloomberg) -- Japan’s top finance ministry official is stepping down after allegations that he sexually harassed female journalists -- one of the most senior resignations in the country associated with the #MeToo movement.

Junichi Fukuda, the vice finance minister for administration, denied the allegations but said they had made it impossible for him to continue in his position. At a press conference held late on Wednesday in Tokyo, Fukuda said he’ll sue the weekly magazine that accused him.

Sexual Harassment Scandal Forces Top Japan Official to Quit

The claims against Fukuda are also a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as polls show rising dissatisfaction with him and his government. The finance ministry is now embroiled in multiple scandals, having already admitted that its officials removed the names of Abe, Abe’s wife and Finance Minister Taro Aso from documents connected to an improper land deal for an ultra-nationalist school.

Parliament earlier on Wednesday denied permission for Aso to attend the International Monetary Fund, Group of 20 meeting in Washington due to the ongoing problems. The ministry said on Thursday that Aso would be going to Washington. Meanwhile, the prime minister is in Florida with President Donald Trump, trying to placate the U.S. leader over trade tensions.

It’s very unfortunate that the official has had to resign, Abe said in a statement from Florida. The statement said the government would work hard to regain people’s trust.

"Abe must be very unhappy as this has caused his popularity to drop further," said Tsuyoshi Ueno, a senior economist at NLI Research Institute. "The hard time for the finance ministry isn’t over -- this is a move to stop it getting worse," he said of Fukuda stepping aside.

Sexual Harassment Scandal Forces Top Japan Official to Quit

Fukuda was the most senior bureaucrat in what is arguably the most powerful ministry in Japan’s government. The ministry was already conducting an investigation into his conduct and had asked a journalist who was anonymously quoted by the weekly magazine to come forward and speak to an outside law firm.

Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi held a late-night press conference on Wednesday after the resignation and confirmed that the reporter who made the allegations works for the company. It said the reporter had been sexual harassed and that it would officially protest about Fukuda and the ministry’s response.

While the #MeToo movement hasn’t gained much traction in the country, the president of a Nikkei 225-listed company resigned earlier this year after a subordinate made sexually explicit remarks to an airline employee.

While Japanese women have been guaranteed equal opportunity in the workplace for more than 30 years, their active participation outside traditional roles has only made headway recently under Abe’s Womenomics policy, and it even now it is limited.

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