Julie Hamp’s drug arrest puts Toyota in damage control mode

June 19, 2015, 10:50 AM UTC
Toyota Motors president Akio Toyoda (R) and senior managing officer Shigeru Hayakawa (2nd R) bow to conclude their press conference following the arrest of the company's managing officer Julie Hamp at their headquarters in Tokyo on June 19, 2015. Japanese investigators were on June 19 questioning a senior female executive of auto giant Toyota after finding controlled drugs in a parcel sent to her from the United States, police said. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Toshifumi Kitamura — AFP/Getty Images

Toyota Motor Corp (TOYOF) moved into damage control mode on Friday after its new communications chief Julie Hamp, an American and its first senior woman executive, was arrested on suspicion of illegally bringing pain killers into Japan just two months after her appointment.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologised for the incident at a news conference and reiterated the company’s belief that Hamp had no intent of breaking the law.

“To me, executives and staff who are my direct reports are like my children,” he said.

“It’s the responsibility of a parent to protect his children and, if a child causes problems, it’s also a parent’s responsibility to apologise.”

Japanese media reports, citing police investigators, said 57 addictive Oxycodone pills were found in a small parcel labelled “necklaces” that was sent from the United States and addressed to Hamp in Japan. The pills were in packets or buried at the bottom of the parcel, which also contained toy pendants and necklaces, they said.

Hamp, a former General Motors Co (GM) and PepsiCo Inc (PEP) executive, told police she did not think she had imported an illegal substance, a spokesman for Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department said.

A police official declined to comment on the latest media reports about the parcel.

Hamp was appointed managing officer in April as part of a drive to diversify Toyota’s male-dominated, mostly Japanese executive line-up. She joined Toyota’s North American unit in 2012 and this month relocated to Tokyo, where she was to be based. She had been staying in a hotel, a Toyota spokeswoman said.

Toyoda vowed that the automaker would maintain its policy of seeking out talent regardless of gender or nationality and expressed regret that the company had not provided enough support for an employee who was not Japanese and had come to live in Japan.

Oxycodone is a prescription drug in both the United States and Japan. Bringing it into Japan requires prior approval from the government and it must be carried by the individual, a health ministry official said.

Hiroaki Okamoto, a criminal defence lawyer at the Nakamura International Criminal Defense Office in Tokyo who is not involved in Hamp’s case, said the large number of pills meant that, if indicted, she could face years in prison, followed by deportation.

The maximum sentence for smuggling drugs with the intent to sell is life in prison, he said. Even if indicted for smuggling for personal use, it would be tough to get a suspended sentence because of the large number of pills, he said.