Julie Hamp, a 55 year old communications executive at Toyota – and the company’s first female senior executive – was arrested in Japan today on charges of smuggling a significant amount of oxycodone into the country.
Oxycodone (more commonly known as OxyContin or Percocet) is a medication in a family called opioid analgesics, which are used to treat significant pain. Like many opioids, it can bring about a high and is often sold as a street drug. As a result, oxycodone is not illegal in either the United States or Japan, but is tightly controlled and anyone wishing to bring it into Japan has to first have a prescription, get prior clearance and then bring it in themselves, according to The Wall Street Journal. It is unclear whether Hamp had a prescription for Oxycodone in the United States.
Hamp is said to have mailed pills to Japan, a large number. Multiple reports confirm that Hamp received the pills in a package she sent to herself from home. The package was intercepted by customs, where it was searched and the undeclared pills found.
The incident may have appeared to be a serious, but genuine misunderstanding (a common occurrence when grappling with foreign laws) but it is reported that the pills were found in a package Hamp had labelled as ‘necklaces’ and alleged to have been dispersed among other miscellaneous items.
This incriminating fact makes Hamp’s case more difficult. Speaking to The New York Post, Japanese attorney Hiroaki Okamoto said that if found guilty, Hamp could face deportation or several years in prison. And Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, at Temple University’s Japan Campus, spoke to USA Today about Japan’s notoriously strict laws and said, “Japan is not a country where you want to get charged with illegal possession of drugs.”
Hamp, a former employee of corporate giants General Motors and PepsiCo, is an American who had relocated to Japan for her job about two months ago. She was arrested in a luxury hotel in Tokyo, where she had been staying. Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota, seemed to sympathize with Hamp as a non-Japanese employee relocating to Tokyo’s very foreign culture, saying Toyota had not offered her enough support in her move.
It’s a blow to the company – Hamp’s position, occupying their top communications role, was touted by Toyota as a symbol of their commitment to diversity and equality in the workplace. Her subsequent high-profile fumble has tarnished Toyota’s image somewhat, and pushed the company into an awkward crisis management mode.
The reactions from Toyota and Hamp herself have maintained that the incident is a misunderstanding and not a breach of the law. A spokesperson from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has said Hamp said she “did not think she had imported an illegal substance.” Meanwhile, Toyoda did not distance himself from Hamp, likening his senior executives to his children.
“It’s the responsibility of a parent to protect his children” said Toyoda, “And, if a child causes problems, it’s also a parent’s responsibility to apologize.”
Toyoda remained deferential but optimistic and loyal to his employee, saying at a press conference where he responded to the incident, “Through the investigation, I believe that we will learn she had no intent to violate the law.”