Japan

Opposition parties call for Aso to resign over bureaucrat harassment scandal

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Opposition parties called on Thursday for Finance Minister Taro Aso to resign over his handling of allegations of sexual harassment by his ministry's top bureaucrat.

The parties argue Aso must take responsibility for both the alleged harassment and his ministry's earlier doctoring of public records connected to cronyism allegations against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Junichi Fukuda offered to resign as vice finance minister on Wednesday, although he continues to deny that he sexually harassed reporters covering the ministry.

The ministry is continuing to investigate how and why its staff altered records pertaining to the 2016 sale of state-owned property to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which at the time had ties to Abe's wife.

Citing both the sexual harassment issue and the Moritomo documents, Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary general of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, demanded Aso's resignation in a meeting with Toshihiro Nikai, his counterpart in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to which Aso belongs.

Members of other opposition parties echoed that call, with Kenta Izumi, Diet affairs chief of the opposition Party of Hope, saying, "We have kept saying he should quit just based on the doctoring of the documents related to Moritomo Gakuen. Now (with the sexual harassment issue) Aso should step down immediately."

Hajime Yoshikawa, secretary general of the smaller Social Democratic Party, also said Aso "should be dismissed immediately. He has dragged (these problems) out for so long without a single word of remorse."

Aso, who left Japan on Thursday to attend the Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in Washington, refused to speak to reporters at Tokyo's Narita airport.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, said there was no reason for Aso to resign.

"With the public casting a stern eye on the Finance Ministry, we want him to spearhead efforts there to gain back the public's trust," Suga told a press conference.

Abe, who is visiting the United States, called the circumstances of Fukuda's resignation "truly regrettable," and said the government will work to regain the public's trust.

Television network TV Asahi said at a press conference in the early hours of Thursday that one of its employees had been sexually harassed by Fukuda, and that she submitted an audio recording of some of the harassment to the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho.

In addition to the harassment allegations themselves, the way the ministry has handled them has also come under scrutiny.

It asked reporters who feel they were sexually harassed by Fukuda to come forward and contact a law firm of its choice to investigate their complaints, arguing that it cannot determine whether certain behavior constituted harassment without testimony from the victims.

The request, made earlier this week to media organizations, prompted Seiko Noda, the minister for women's empowerment, and others to express concern it would put an undue burden on the victims.

© KYODO

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