Top Female Toyota Executive Arrested for Drug Possession in Japan

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Yesterday, Toyota Motor Corp’s Julie Hamp, the highest-ranking woman in the automaker’s history, was arrested by Japanese police who allege that she attempted to illegally import painkillers into Japan from the U.S. through the mail.

Hamp, who is American, is now based in Japan as the newly-minted managing officer and chief communications officer for Toyota, having only started working for the behemoth automaker two months ago. According to Japanese authorities, she allegedly tried to import the painkiller oxycodone from the United States to Japan.

Oxycodone, a popular and highly addictive painkiller, is legal as a prescription in both Japan and the U.S. However, Japanese law is very strict on the importation of narcotics into country and, according to the Japanese Health Ministry, people who do so must first obtain government approval. They then have to visibly carry the prescriptions on their person, not hidden at the bottom of a suitcase.

It’s not clear yet if Hamp, a former General Motors and PepsiCo executive, had gotten such permission, but the way the pills suggests were allegedly packed suggest smuggling. The parcel, labeled “necklaces,” was addressed to Hamp and contained 57 tablets of oxycodone found in packets. There were also pills buried at the bottom of the parcel, underneath toy necklaces and pendants.

Hamp told police officials she didn’t know she had imported an illegal substance, Reuters reports.

The large amount of pills means that Hamp could face a prison term if indicted, followed by deportation, Hiroaki Okamoto, a Tokyo-based criminal defense lawyer not involved in Hamp’s case, told Reuters.

The high number of pills, Okamoto added, means it might be hard for Hamp to get a suspended sentence, regardless of whether the pills were intended for her personal use.

At a news conference yesterday, Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president, defended Hemp by saying she had not tried to break the law. Toyoda said:

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

Hamp, 55, assumed her lofty role with Toyota in April. Toyoda apparently moved Hamp up in rank in an attempt to diversify high-profile managerial positions within Toyota, which were held mostly by Japanese men.

Travelers into Japan are advised to read the U.S. Embassy in Japan rules about bringing in illegal or prescription drugs. In addition to getting governmental approval, Japan law states that a person must only bring in a one-month supply of a prescription drug and also have a copy of their doctor’s prescription in hand, in addition to a letter from the physician describing the person’s need for a drug.

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