Toyota executive freed after arrest over drugs charges

Julie Hamp leaves a Tokyo police station yesterday. Picture: AP
Julie Hamp leaves a Tokyo police station yesterday. Picture: AP
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Toyota’s highest ranking ­female executive until her arrest in Japan on suspicion of drug law violations was released from custody without charge yesterday.

Julie Hamp, 55, who resigned last week from Toyota, was ­arrested on 18 June on suspicion of importing oxycodone, a pain killer. The drug is tightly controlled in Japan.

She emerged from a Tokyo police building looking solemn and tired. She was driven away in a minivan.

Ms Hamp, an American, was appointed three months ago as the head of public relations at the Japanese car maker, in a move that was highlighted as promoting diversity.

Prosecutors said yesterday that she arranged with her father to have 57 oxycodone pills sent by airmail from the US to a Tokyo hotel in June. They said this act was importation of a narcotic, but decided not to pursue charges.

Legal experts said that a show of remorse from first-time offenders tends to win some ­leniency. Bringing in such a tightly controlled drug is, however, a serious crime in Japan, often resulting in charges.

Toyota named a replacement for Ms Hamp yesterday, Shigeru Hayakawa, a senior managing officer and board member. Mr Hayakawa, who joined Toyota in 1977, has experience in the company’s US operations and is a communications veteran.

Toyota reiterated its apology for the “confusion and concerns” Ms Hamp’s arrest might have caused.

It again promised to promote qualified people, regardless of nationality, gender and age, as Toyota continues its efforts “to become a truly global company”.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda has defended Ms Hamp, calling her an important member of the Toyota team.

Mr Toyoda has acknowledged the company probably should have done more to help with her relocation as the first foreign executive to be permanently ­stationed in Japan.

Her arrest, a major embarrassment for Toyota, highlights missteps in its effort to diversify and become more international in its corporate culture.

Toyota’s top executives are predominantly Japanese men, although some progress has been made in recent years to promote foreigners. Ms Hamp was the first high-profile female promotion.

Sakae Komori, a lawyer who frequently handles drug-related cases, said: “This is seen as a very serious crime in Japan.

“Perhaps the authorities see her as already facing enough social punishment, and she was not judged a drug abuser.”

Toyota is such a powerful company in Japan that any events connected to it can be seen as setting a precedent.

Mr Komori said Ms Hamp’s resignation from Toyota could have helped in winning her release. Ms Hamp, who joined Toyota in 2012, worked at its US operations until her latest promotion. Before that, she worked for PepsiCo and General Motors.

It is not unheard of for foreigners to be detained in Japan for bringing in medicine they used at home. Such drugs may be banned in Japan or require special approval. Suspects can be held in custody for up to 23 days without formal charges.