National / Crime & Legal

Ex-Toyota exec Hamp walks free; experts divided

Kyodo

Former Toyota Motor Corp. executive Julie Hamp was released from detention Wednesday after prosecutors decided not to indict her regarding the import of a narcotic painkiller.

Prosecutors released the 55-year-old American after deeming that her action had no ill-intent, given that she had her family send the drugs to relieve her knee pain, investigative sources said.

Hamp was arrested on June 18 on suspicion of importing a mail package containing 57 oxycodone pills, which are illegal without a prescription in Japan.

Customs officials at Narita airport on June 11 found some of the pills placed at the bottom of a box listed as containing a necklace, and the rest inside an accessory case.

Toyota announced Wednesday that Senior Managing Officer Shigeru Hayakawa has been appointed chief communications officer, effective Monday, replacing Hamp.

Some criminal law experts called the outcome surprising.

“The prosecutors’ decision is questionable,” said Hisashi Sonoda, a professor at Konan University’s law school, as a number of facts cast suspicion on Hamp’s intentions.

He pointed out that the pills had been packed in several small boxes, making them difficult to find. She reportedly told investigators she was unaware she was breaking the law and did not believe she had imported narcotics.

“If it was true, as she claims, that she thought she was not breaking law, she would have had the pills sent in a more open manner,” Sonoda said. “If we evaluate the situation objectively, she has shown she was aware the painkillers were illegal. It’s surprising they couldn’t find any proof in her testimonies. Has anyone questioned if she needed such strong drugs?”

The strong analgesics are customarily prescribed for patients with terminal cancer, he added.

He said that Hamp’s release may affect verdicts in similar cases in the future.

But Sakae Komori, a lawyer who specializes in drug cases, said the outcome to Hamp’s case is not unusual. He said cases involving violations of the drug law and the possession or importing of similar drugs considered illegal in Japan are often dropped. He said cases seem to be judged on individual circumstances.

“Now that they said she won’t be charged, people may get the idea it had something to do with her position at Toyota Motor Corp.,” Komori said.

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