Finance Minister Taro Aso reiterated that the senior bureaucrat who had to resign in a sexual harassment scandal might have been set up, then retracted the remark when taken to task by lawmakers.

Showing a remarkable lack of awareness of the effects of sexual harassment on victims, Aso told the Diet on May 11 that for all he knew the TV reporter in question may have set a trap.

Pressed later in the day by other lawmakers to explain what he meant, Aso retracted the comment.

The resignation of Junichi Fukuda as administrative vice finance minister was formally approved April 24 following allegations he made sexually suggestive remarks to a female reporter, who taped the exchanges and exposed the matter to a weekly magazine.

At that time, Aso said, "There are various views about the matter, including one about (Fukuda) being set up for the harassment charge."

At the May 11 session of the Lower House Financial Affairs Committee, Aso was asked by Kanako Otsuji of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) if he still held that view.

Aso replied: "Such a possibility cannot be denied. It might be the truth."

In the afternoon session of the same committee, Toru Miyamoto of the Japanese Communist Party demanded Aso retract the comment from the morning session.

Aso explained that Fukuda was reprimanded after the ministry acknowledged the veracity of the allegations, and then retracted his earlier comment.

On April 27, the Finance Ministry announced that disciplinary action had been taken against Fukuda, and acknowledged that he had behaved in an unseemly manner.

Although TV Asahi Corp., which employed the reporter in question, had asked for a continuation of the investigation into the allegations, the Finance Ministry made clear it considered the matter closed.

But subsequently Aso continued to stir controversy, at one point by stating that sexual harassment was not legally a crime.

Opposition lawmakers have refused to let Aso off the hook, and kept pressing him to explain his views on the issue.

Yukio Edano, the head of the CDP, said, "(Aso) is repeatedly creating secondary damage" to the victim.

The opposition parties will likely hammer away at Aso during sessions of the Budget Committees of both chambers of the Diet scheduled for May 14.

Appearing on a TV program on May 11, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: "I believe the victim has psychological scars. We have to think by trying to stand in her shoes. That is why I believe Aso decided to retract his comment."

Abe added that all lawmakers had to be very careful about what they say.