After 20 days in a Tokyo jail, former Toyota Motor Corp. global communications chief Julie Hamp was released by Japanese prosecutors Wednesday without being charged for allegedly importing the narcotic painkiller oxycodone without official permission.
While the 55-year-old New York native will not have to face trial – something that could have led to up to 10 years in prison – she was forced to resign from a position that made her not only one of the most prominent foreigners in the Japanese business world but the highest-ranking woman in a traditionally closed society.
That has raised questions about whether her detention and well-publicized raids on three Toyota offices had anything to do with her gender and nationality. Clearly, from statements made by government officials, Hamp was held up as an example.
“She has already gone through a certain level of punishment,” an official from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office told the Wall Street Journal, which noted that prosecutors considered her resignation in deciding to release Hamp without charges.
(Police raid Toyota offices. Click Here for the story.)
She is now expected to return to the United States though without a job and the sort of cloud hanging over her that could make it difficult to find another in the high-profile world of public relations.
Hamp was arrested on June 18th when she received a package of jewelry in which, it was alleged, 57 tablets of oxycodone, a narcotic painkiller, had been hidden – reportedly by her father. It was allegedly part of a legal prescription given to Hamp in the U.S. for problems with her knees. But she failed to first win permission to import the drug into Japan.
Hamp was being held virtually incommunicado in a cell with other prisoners, none allowed to refer to each other by name, according to reports from Japan. She was allowed only one 20-minute visit from an outsider per day, along with contact with her lawyer. She could be questioned repeatedly by authorities without a lawyer present.
The country’s laws would have allowed prosecutors to hold her for up to 23 days without charges, and were she charged she might have stayed in jail until a trial began. Japan aggressively prosecutes drug cases and authorities claim a conviction rate of around 99%.
On the other hand, in a country where social norms are highly valued and shame, or losing “face” is often seen as punishment, Justice Ministry statistics showed that in 2013 about 43% of those detained were never indicted.
Hamp received support from key places during her detainment. U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy reportedly intervened on her behalf. So did Toyota President Akio Toyoda who even staged a news conference to discuss the situation, describing Hamp as a “friend” and an “invaluable” asset to the company. Toyoda also tried to shoulder some of the blame for not properly preparing his PR chief for the move to Japan.
Hamp had joined Toyota in 2012 as head of U.S. communications, and was in the midst of completing her move to Japan after being promoted to the global top spot in April of this year.
(For more on Hamp’s resignation from Toyota, Click Here.)
A report in the English-language Japan Times suggested Toyoda’s involvement may actually have exacerbated the crisis – at least if Hamp’s gender and nationality really were part of the issue. Until recently, only a handful of foreigners have taken senior positions in Japan’s executive suites, typically men.
In a bid to diversify, however, Toyoda has added a number of foreigners to key positions since taking control of the company founded by his grandfather. That included the appointment of former General Motors executive Mark Hogan to the company’s board of directors. Hamp, who also spent a number of years at GM before taking over PepsiCo PR, pushed even further into new territory as a woman exec.
For now, she has been replaced by a Japanese male, Toyota Senior Managing Officer Shigeru Hayakawa, whose office issued a statement that, “We intend to learn from this incident by reinforcing our guiding principles of honoring the language and spirit of the law.”
Whether that means learning the limits on importing foreign talent into Japan’s executive ranks remains to be seen.