Toyota publicly defended Julie Hamp, its global communications chief and top female executive, two weeks after her arrest on suspicion of illegally importing prescription drugs into Japan.
The 55-year-old US citizen relinquished her role after authorities discovered 57 oxycodone pills – a controlled substance in many countries – in a package she shipped to herself, prompting her arrest.
Toyota has accepted the resignation, but President Akio Toyoda has also come out to declare Hamp “a close friend” and an “invaluable” part of the company, while apologising for “the confusion surrounding recent events”, and stating his belief that Hamp had not knowingly broken Japanese law.
Oxycodone is a widely prescribed painkiller in the US, but possession is illegal in Japan without a prescription and depending on the charges, Hamp could face up to 10 years in jail.
“Because the investigation of Ms. Hamp is ongoing, there is little Toyota can say at this time,” the company has said. “However, we intend to learn from this incident as we continue to take the steps necessary to become a truly global company."
Hamp’s appointment as the first woman and foreigner to fill the role of as global communications chief had been viewed as a significant step in Toyota’s halting bid to diversify its leadership ranks.
Before joining Toyota in 2012, Hamp worked for PepsiCo and General Motors.
Toyota has since affirmed: “We remain firmly committed to putting the right people in the right places, regardless of nationality, gender, age and other factors.”
Japanese prosecutors have a high rate of successful prosecution and can retain suspects for up to 23 days without bail or formal charges. Hamp has been in custody since 18 June, 2015.
The auto giant is still dealing with the blowback having to recall millions of cars over unintended acceleration issues, and in March 2015 agreed to pay $1.2bn to settle a class-action suit over the matter.