NEWS
07/08/2015 03:51 EDT | Updated 07/08/2016 01:12 EDT

American Toyota executive arrested in Japan for suspected drug violation released from custody

TOKYO — Toyota's highest ranking woman executive until her arrest in Japan on suspicion of drug law violations was released from custody without charges Wednesday.

Julie Hamp, 55, who resigned last week from Toyota Motor Corp., was arrested June 18 on suspicion of importing oxycodone, a narcotic pain killer. The drug is tightly controlled in Japan.

She emerged from a Tokyo police building where she'd been detained looking solemn and tired. She was whisked away in a minivan.

Hamp, an American, was appointed three months ago as the head of public relations at the Japanese automaker, in a high-profile move that was highlighted by the Japanese automaker as promoting diversity.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that she arranged with her father to have 57 oxycodone pills sent air mail from the U.S. to a Tokyo hotel in June. They said this act was importation of a narcotic but decided not to pursue charges.

Japanese prosecutors are not obligated to publicly explain the reasons for their decisions. Legal experts say that a show of remorse and first-time offenders tend to win some leniency. Bringing in such a tightly controlled drug is a serious crime in Japan, often resulting in charges.

Toyota has not yet named her replacement. Toyota President Akio Toyoda has defended Hamp, calling her an important member of the Toyota team.

He has acknowledged the company likely should have done more to help with her relocation as the first foreign executive to be permanently stationed in Japan.

Her arrest, a big embarrassment for Toyota, highlights missteps in its effort to become a more global company.

Toyota's top executives are predominantly Japanese males, although some progress has been made in recent years to promote foreigners. Hamp was the first high-profile woman promotion.

Sakae Komori, a lawyer who frequently handles drug-related cases, said it's difficult to figure out why someone is charged or not charged. Suspects with smaller amounts of the same drug have been charged, he said.

"This is seen as a very serious crime in Japan," he said, acknowledging that the decision may invite allegations of unfairness. "Perhaps the authorities see her as already facing enough social punishment, and she was not judged a drug abuser."

Toyota is such a powerful company in Japan that anything it does, or anything that happens to it, can be seen as setting a precedent.

Komori said Hamp's resignation from Toyota could have helped in winning her release.

Hamp, who joined Toyota in 2012, worked at its U.S. operations until her latest promotion. Before that, she worked for PepsiCo Inc. and General Motors Co.

Police raided the automaker's headquarters in Toyota city, central Japan, as well as its Tokyo and Nagoya offices last month.

It is not unheard of for foreigners to be detained in Japan for mailing or bringing in medicine they used at home. Such drugs may be banned in Japan or require special approval. In Japan, suspects can be held in custody for up to 23 days without formal charges.

___

Follow Yuri Kageyama: twitter.com/yurikageyama

Yuri Kageyama, The Associated Press