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Ex-Toyota exec Julie Hamp released after Japan arrest

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Former Toyota Motor Corp. communications chief Julie Hamp was released after being arrested on a drug charge in Japan — and is returning to the United States Wednesday.

Hamp, a former executive at PepsiCo and General Motors, resigned as global head of communications for the world’s largest automaker after being arrested June 18 on allegations she imported the narcotic pain medicine oxycodone without approval of Japanese authorities. Hamp was one of the highest-ranking Americans at Toyota.

Toyota issued a statement apologizing — and rebutted suggestions in the Japanese press that the incident was a reason the automaker should avoid placing Americans in high ranking positions.

“We apologize for any confusion or concern the recent events surrounding former Managing Officer Julie Hamp may have caused,” Toyota said.

“We intend to learn from this incident by reinforcing our guiding principles of honoring the language and spirit of the law. Furthermore, we will continue to strive to create a more secure working environment for everyone at Toyota around the world. We also remain firmly committed to putting the right people in the right places, regardless of nationality, gender, age and other factors, as we continue to take the steps necessary to become a truly global company.”

Some at Toyota have suggested that prosecutors threatened to proceed with charges unless she agreed to resign, but the company hasn’t commented on that.

The case has drawn the attention of the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, who raised Hamp’s case with the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Earlier this year, Kennedy worked for the release of an American teacher who was arrested after importing a drug for attention deficit disorder.

Hamp resigned soon after Toyota President Akio Toyoda had called a press conference to express support for Hamp and defend her, saying she hadn’t intended to violate strict Japanese drug laws.

Toyota said the company should have done a better job of ensuring Hamp understood Japanese laws.

Hamp joined Toyota in 2012 in the United States as head of Toyota North America communications.

Hamp worked at GM for about 25 years before moving to Pepsi. She was vice president for GM Europe and had other top jobs at GM including as communications chief for GM Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, and vice president of communications at Saturn. She graduated from Ferris State University in Big Rapids.

Toyota also announced Wednesday that Shigeru Hayakawa, a senior managing officer and member of the Board of Directors, has been appointed chief communications officer starting this week.