Japan's 'prince on ice' blames booze for sex harassment scandal

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese figure-skating heartthrob Daisuke Takahashi has denied being the victim of sexual harassment as a scandal raged over magazine photos of him in the clutches of the 49-year-old boss of his sport, local media reported Friday.

Snapshots, purportedly taken at a booze-fuelled party held after the Winter Olympics, emerged earlier this week showing skater-turned-politician Seiko Hashimoto hugging and kissing Takahashi.

"It was a case of two adults getting a little out of control," the 28-year-old Takahashi told Japan's Nikkan Sports, in his first public comments since the storm broke.

"We'd drunk alcohol and overdid the frolicks. I regret it but I don't think for one moment it was power harassment or sexual harassment."

Married mother-of-three Hashimoto, who was Japan's delegation chief at the Sochi Olympics in February and is currently president of the Japan Skating Federation, was accused of sexual harassment by the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine which published the photos.

In one photo, former world champion Takahashi, dubbed the "prince on ice" by his legion of female followers, appears to be turning his face away from the skate chief as she tries to kiss him in front of other partygoers, some snapping away on smartphones.

The magazine quoted one witness as saying Hashimoto had pounced on 2010 Olympic bronze medallist Takahashi and been zealous in her advances, prompting accusations of an abuse of power.

Hashimoto, a former Olympic speed skater and cyclist, has denied claims of sexual harassment, insisting she was merely showing Takahashi the same sort of affection she would any other athlete.

"If this invited misunderstanding, I regret it and think I should be careful," said Hashimoto.

Hashimoto's name has been mentioned in connection with an expected cabinet reshuffle Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans for early September.

Her elevation would fit with Abe's stated aim of boosting the number of women in senior positions by 2020, when Tokyo will host the summer Olympic Games. Hashimoto also serves as the head of development at the Japanese Olympic Committee.

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