National / Crime & Legal

Prosecutors will not indict ex-Toyota exec Hamp over painkillers

Kyodo, Bloomberg

Former Toyota Motor Corp. executive Julie Hamp will not be charged with illegally importing a controlled painkiller, investigative sources said Tuesday.

Prosecutors decided not to indict the 55-year-old American after concluding that her action was not ill-intended and considering the fact that she has already resigned from her job.

Hamp became the auto giant’s first female executive but stepped down last week over the scandal.

Police arrested her June 18 on suspicion of mailing 57 oxycodone pills from Kentucky to a Tokyo hotel where she was staying. The drug is illegal without a prescription in Japan.

The pills were found by customs officials when a package containing them arrived at Narita International Airport on June 11.

Oxycodone is often used as a pain reliever by cancer patients and is said to be stronger than morphine.

Hamp told the police she arranged for the pills to be sent for knee pain and did not think it would violate Japanese laws.

Toyota appointed Hamp as its first female managing officer on April 1 as part of efforts to diversify its leadership, but the automaker said she had resigned as of June 30.

Her case, and that of others like 26-year-old Carrie Russell, an English teacher held for 18 days in February for possessing prescription drugs sent from the U.S., offers a warning to visitors: Japan has tough laws for possession of prescription drugs, even when those medications may have been recommended by doctors abroad.

“When you get medicine from your physician, you assume it’s OK to bring it with you,” said Russell, who’s been taking medication for attention deficit disorder since she was 10. “I was completely wrong,” she said in a phone interview from Oregon.

A spokeswoman at the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office, who asked not to be named citing department policy, declined to comment on Hamp’s and Russell’s cases. Hamp’s attorney and family members in the U.S. could not be reached for comment.

Oxycodone is a pain reliever used to treat moderate to severe pain and can be obtained in the U.S. with a prescription.

Under Japan’s criminal laws, police can detain suspects for 23 days without charge. During that period, police will interrogate those suspected of drug-related offenses for as long as six hours a day, according to Hirotaka Honda, a Tokyo-based attorney at the Honda Law Office who represents foreigners involved in criminal and domestic disputes involving the police.

“Detainees can be interrogated whenever the police think it is necessary,” said Honda. “And while getting investigated, they cannot be with their lawyer.”

Russell’s ordeal started Feb. 20 when she said she was approached by five plainclothes police officers with her photo in hand while she dined with a friend at a Tokyo pub.

One of the officers asked if she had any amphetamines.

Russell, who initially had no idea what they were talking about, said no. Even so, she was handcuffed and placed in the back seat of an unmarked van for a five-hour drive to Nagoya, her home since arriving in Japan.

A little more than 13,100 people were charged with drug-related crimes last year, the most in a decade, according to the National Police Agency. About 6 percent, or 778 individuals, were foreigners, the agency said. More than 80 percent of the crimes involved methamphetamines.

Cases of drug smuggling meanwhile rose 11 percent to 245, according to police data.

“The National Police Agency is getting more and more strict with drug cases recently,” said Hiroaki Okamoto, an attorney at Nakamura International Criminal Defense LPC in Tokyo.

Every day during her detention, Russell woke at 6:30 a.m., ate breakfast and performed morning chores. She would then be escorted into a room from 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. to be questioned until 5 p.m., she said.

“It was literally them asking me the same thing over and over again,” said Russell, who said she was the only foreigner in the detention center. The police were “trying to get me to break and say something that didn’t happen or was suspicious. But there was nothing for me to break on.”

After her interrogations, Russell had free time to read a book until lights out. The questioning would start again the next day, she said.

A spokesman with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department declined to comment on the case.

Before moving to Tokyo, Russell taught English in South Korea. Her mother, a physician, had sent her packages, including Adderall, a pharmaceutical amphetamine used to treat ADD, which was never opened.

Russell mailed her belongings, including the drugs, from Seoul to Nagoya when she got a new job in Japan, unaware of the rule that users need advance permission before bringing certain drugs into the country.

The English teacher was released after 18 days of detention only when U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy made a personal appeal. She decided to return to the U.S. after her release.

On its website, the U.S. Embassy warns citizens to check before mailing or carrying medication to Japan, or face arrest and detention.

An embassy spokesman, who asked not to be named, declined to comment specifically on the case involving Hamp.

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