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Opposition parties want more answers on Fukuda sexual harassment case

Junichi Fukuda (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Though the Finance Ministry acknowledged on April 27 that ex-Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda sexually harassed a female TV Asahi reporter, opposition parties want a deeper investigation.

So far, the ministry has recognized that Fukuda sexually harassed the reporter, and it has also fully acknowledged claims by TV Asahi. While Fukuda still denies the claims, the ministry took action equivalent to disciplinary punishment three days after his resignation. The ministry has declared that no further investigation will be undertaken, even though opposition parties have criticized the ministry's handling of the case and TV Asahi is asking for the probe to be continued.

"The situation changed once TV Asahi disclosed the sexual harassment allegations," said head of the Finance Ministry's secretarial section Yutaka Ito at an April 27 press conference, in explaining why the ministry decided to punish Fukuda despite his denials.

An anonymous party -- separate from the TV Asahi reporter -- consulted with the law firm entrusted by the ministry to conduct the investigation on Fukuda's sexual harassment case by an April 25 deadline for victims to come forward, Ito revealed. However, he added that the consultation "lacked substance," and that Fukuda was "questioned three times, but no new information came to light."

In response to what appears to be the ministry's attempt to bring the matter to a close as quickly as possible, reporters asked a series of questions such as "Why are you ending the investigation?" and, "Aren't you just rushing the disciplinary action before the Golden Week holidays?" Ito replied, "Even if the investigation went beyond Golden Week, it would be difficult to confirm further details," adding that a lack of concrete counterarguments or exculpating evidence from Fukuda led the ministry to acknowledge that sexual harassment had taken place.

Moreover, there has been fierce criticism from opposition parties and experts toward the ministry's urging of victims to come forward, and Deputy Vice Finance Minister Koji Yano expressed regret over the issue. Yano was also asked about the remark, "Is it that painful for (victims) to come forward anonymously?" that he made during questioning in the Diet. He apologized for the statement, saying, "I am sorry if I lacked sensitivity."

Criticism has also emerged from within the ruling parties. Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of coalition partner Komeito, said on April 27, "This is long overdue. An anachronistic attitude (toward sexual harassment) has been exposed, sparking feelings of disgust, especially from women."

Meanwhile, Kiyomi Tsujimoto, Diet Affairs chief of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan said, "This issue cannot be solved with just a cut in salary. (Fukuda) hasn't even admitted anything yet," indicating that she was looking to hold Finance Minister Taro Aso responsible.

(Japanese original by Daisuke Oka, Business News Department)

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