Japanese investigators were on Friday questioning Toyota's most senior female executive after finding controlled drugs sent to her from the United States, police said, as the automaker's chief vowed to support his "dear colleague."
Julie Hamp, a U.S. citizen recently appointed to head global public relations at the world's biggest automaker, was arrested at a Tokyo hotel where she was staying, on suspicion of violating the country's drug control law, a police spokesman told AFP.
She is being held for allegedly importing oxycodone -- an opioid used to relieve pain -- without permission from the authorities, a crime that "is subject to one to 10 years in prison," he said.
Hamp, 55, "said she did not believe she had imported narcotics when she was arrested," the official said. People arrested in Japan can be held for up to three weeks without charge.
By midday Friday, she had been sent to the prosecutors' office, another police official said, as the scandal made headlines in Japan.
The parcel was sent to Hamp on June 8 from the US and arrived at Tokyo's Narita airport on June 11 where it was intercepted, he added.
The package, labeled "necklaces", contained several small boxes, each holding accessories and several tablets, reports said, adding that police suspect there had been an attempt to hide the drug.
Oxycodone is designated as a narcotic in Japan but can be prescribed by a doctor for use as a pain reliever.
Japanese law allows individuals to bring the drug from abroad if they have a legitimate prescription, but they cannot be sent by mail.
On Friday, Toyota's chief executive apologized and pledged his support for Hamp, who in April was the company's first non-Japanese executive posted to work permanently in Toyota's home market. He declined to discuss details of the case.
"We believe it will become clear that Ms. Hamp did not intend to break the law," Akio Toyoda told reporters.
"My immediate subordinates and other employees are like children to me -- it is a parent's duty to protect my child... Ms. Hamp is a dear colleague whom I trust."
Hamp's promotion to head of communications for the auto giant made her the company's most senior female executive after previously working at Toyota's North American division.
Japan's strict drug laws ban some medications available in other countries, while jail time for possession of illegal narcotics such as cocaine or methamphetamine is not uncommon.
Earlier this year, a 26-year-old teacher from Oregon was arrested in Japan after receiving the prescription drug Adderall by mail from her mother, who is a doctor, reports said.
She was released three weeks later following interventions from members of Congress and diplomats in Tokyo.
The U.S. embassy in Japan cautions citizens to careful of falling foul of the country's strict drug laws.
"Japanese customs officials or police can detain travelers importing prohibited items. Japanese customs officials do not make on-the-spot 'humanitarian' exceptions for medicines that are prohibited in Japan," the embassy warned on its website.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015