TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan’s top finance bureaucrat denied on Monday (April 16) a weekly magazine’s allegation that he had sexually harassed female reporters and vowed to file a lawsuit against 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.
The ministry quoted Mr Fukuda as saying he did not recall having the reported exchanges with the female reporter or having a meal with the reporter.
He did not consider remarks he made to the reporter as constituting sexual harassment, the ministry said in the statement.
“I sincerely feel sorry for causing trouble to Finance Minister (Taro) Aso and ministry officials by inviting public distrust,” Mr Fukuda was quoted as saying.
“Reflecting, I’ll fulfil my duty with a sense of urgency,” he added, giving no sign that we would tender his resignation.
Earlier on Monday, the daily Sankei newspaper reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had decided that Mr Fukuda must be fired, without citing a source.
The issue could become another headache for Finance Minister Aso and Mr 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 Mr Abe can stay in power.
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.
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.
While Mr 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.
Finance Minister Aso told a parliamentary panel last week that Mr Fukuda had spoken to him about the matter.
According to Mr Aso, Mr Fukuda said he met many people in a private capacity and it was not possible to verify every interaction, but that he would be careful not to "be misunderstood" from now on.
Mr Aso admonished Mr Fukuda, but stopped short of imposing any punishment.