Top official repeats denial of alleged misconduct

Finance Minister Taro Aso announces the resignation of Junichi Fukuda as administrative vice finance minister on April 18

In response to the Finance Ministry calling for female reporters allegedly sexually harassed by top ministry bureaucrat Junichi Fukuda to come forward and cooperate in a government investigation, associations of reporters in various fields of media are protesting the handling of the case.

Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda denied the allegations but submitted his resignation, citing difficulties carrying out his duties because of escalating criticism and attention.

The Shukan Shincho magazine last week reported that Fukuda had made inappropriate comments to several female journalists and on Friday released audio of what it said was the top bureaucrat at a bar with a reporter. He said he still meant to sue the magazine, Shincho.

The ministry said that following an interview, Fukuda said he has no recollection of having dined with a female reporter.

"Because no victim has come out, only the wrongdoer has been put on the spot and it's a one-sided story", Aso said. It did not release the reporter's name.

Fukuda told reporters that he couldn't tell if the voice in the recording was his.

The weekly magazine reported this month that Fukuda had made sexually suggestive comments to a female reporter. The broadcaster said the employee had handed an audio recording of her conversation with Fukuda to the publisher of a weekly magazine that ran the story about the alleged misconduct.

Fukuda acknowledged having regular one-on-one meetings with members of the finance ministry press club — most of whom work for major Japanese newspapers and broadcast companies — but denied making such remarks.

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He denied having "such an very bad conversation". He has said he is preparing to file a libel suit against the magazine's publisher. The magazine has said it stands by its reporting.

The harassment scandal comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government struggles with the fallout from two cronyism scandals, one of which involves the adjustment of official documents by finance ministry officials.

It is the latest in a number of headaches for Aso and Abe.

The mounting scandals have called into question Abe's chances of securing a third term as party leader this September, which seemed assured earlier this year, and could even force him to step down before the leadership race.

At the news conference on Wednesday, when a reporter asked Mr. Fukuda if he recognized his own voice in the recording, he responded, "I hear my voice through my body, so I can't recognize my true voice when listening with my ears".

Ryuichi Yoneyama was elected governor of Niigata prefecture in 2016 on a pledge to prevent the restarting of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station, the world's biggest nuclear plant.

Yoneyama, who is single, insisted he had not paid for sex with the women, but acknowledged his actions could "look to some like prostitution".

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