Photo/IllutrationFinance Minister Taro Aso speaks with reporters at a news conference held after a Cabinet meeting in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on the morning of May 15. (Takeshi Iwashita)

A subdued Finance Minister Taro Aso, who had long defended the former senior bureaucrat in his ministry in an alleged sexual harassment scandal, finally relented and apologized to the victim on May 14.

“I apologize,” Aso said during the Lower House Budget Committee session on the 18th day since the Finance Ministry admitted the harassment occurred.

The ministry apologized in writing toward the female journalist on April 27. Aso, however, has made controversial remarks since then, including that Junichi Fukuda, who resigned as administrative vice finance minister, may had been set up by the journalist.

“It is a problem that there has been no apology from (you) as the person who supervised and managed (Fukuda),” said Hiroshi Kawauchi, a member of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, during the May 14 session.

Aso disputed the assertion, saying that his ministry had already apologized in writing.

“(We) have properly done it," he said. "Are you ordering me to say it aloud?”

He finally apologized after being pressed again by Kawauchi.

Aso also said during a news conference on the morning on May 15 after a Cabinet meeting, “It is correct for you to think that I, as the finance minister as well as an individual, admitted that (Fukuda) did commit sexual harassment.”

During the Lower House Financial Affairs Committee session on May 11, Aso refused to apologize after being requested to do so by an opposition party member, saying, “(We) submitted the letter of apology.”

He added, “You cannot deny the possibility that (Fukuda) might have been set up.”

Aso was criticized for the comment and forced to retract on the same day what he said after coming under fire from lawmakers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his intention to have Aso continue in his post during the Lower House Budget Committee session on May 14.

“Aso has withdrawn his comment that can cause misunderstanding," Abe said. "I want him to properly assume the leadership of the organization aiming to rebuild the credibility of the ministry.”

(This article was written by Maiko Ito and Tetsuya Kasai.)