Toyota’s PR Chief Resigns Two Weeks After Prescription Drug Arrest in Japan

hamp
Julie Hamp
Julie Hamp, formerly managing officer and chief communications officer, Toyota

This is an update of an article that was published originally on June 19, 2015. —Editors

Julie Hamp, Toyota's PR chief and the highest-ranking woman in its 77-year history, has resigned from her post, nearly two weeks after being arrested on suspicion of illegally bringing painkillers into Japan, according to a report in the New York Times.

Japanese police had found 57 Oxycodone pills inside a small parcel labeled "necklaces" that was mailed from the United States and addressed to Hamp in Japan. Oxycodone, a prescription drug in both countries, is classified as a narcotic in Japan.

At a news conference on June 19, Toyota's president Akio Toyoda apologized for the incident and expressed the company's belief that Hamp had not knowingly broken the law.

"I apologize for the confusion surrounding recent events," Toyoda said. "We are confident, however, that once the investigation is complete, it will be revealed there was no intention on Julie’s part to violate any law."

Toyota's quick response and forthright defense of Hamp indicated that the company had hoped to be able to move past this story quickly.

"Toyota is wisely, courageously and quite compassionately standing behind Hamp, going so far as to publicly apologize for not doing enough to ease her transition to Japan," said crisis specialist Richard Levick, CEO of Levick, shortly after Hamp's arrest.

"By definition, this is a crime which is malum prohibitum—wrong literally only by virtue of local statute," said Levick. "From what we know to date, she was operating with no ill intent and had legitimate reasons for importing the drug. If she has a history of pain and of using the product in the U.S., this story disappears as soon as prosecutors decide how to proceed."

Hamp, who has remained in custody in Japan since being arrested on June 18, has not been formally charged, according to the July 1 Times report.

This likely won’t be the last incident in which an executive fails to appreciate the complexities of an increasingly global marketplace, Levick said.

Follow Brian Greene on Twitter: @bw_greene