The Finance Ministry did not realize the seriousness of the abnormal situation resulting from its vice minister’s suspected sexual harassment. It also misread public opinion.
Shukan Shincho reported the alleged sexual harassment on April 12. On that day, Finance Minister Taro Aso told the House of Councillors Committee on Financial Affairs: “I believe it would be sufficient to reprimand him (Vice Minister Junichi Fukuda).” He indicated that his ministry had no plans to conduct further investigations. His dealing with Fukuda with only a verbal reprimand incurred public ire.
The Finance Ministry’s announcement of its response on April 16 spurred strong public criticism. An outside law office was commissioned to investigate because Fukuda denied the allegations. The ministry asked female reporters who were sexually harassed by Fukuda to identify themselves. Both ruling and opposition parties fiercely criticized this measure thatutterly lacked consideration for the victims.
The ministry was due to announce shortly the punishment of the officials involved with the alteration of documents relating to the sale of government land to Moritomo Gakuen. It is widely believed that the ministry wanted to put off Fukuda’s resignation in order to minimize the negative impact on his successor. However, it ended up unable to dodge criticism and Fukuda was forced to resign on April 18.