Shohei Ohtani breaks silence on interpreter gambling scandal: ‘I never bet on baseball or any other sports’

Shohei Ohtani breaks silence on interpreter gambling scandal: ‘I never bet on baseball or any other sports’

Shohei Ohtani broke his silence on the gambling scandal surrounding his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, on Monday

Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani spoke to the media Monday for the first time since his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, was fired following accusations that he stole more than $4 million from Ohtani to cover his illegal gambling debts.

In a roughly 12-minute statement, Ohtani denied having ever bet on sports and said repeatedly that Mizuhara lied to him throughout the process.

“I am very saddened and shocked someone I trusted has done this,” Ohtani said through an interpreter at the beginning of his statement. He then denied being involved in sports gambling in any form.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do that on my behalf,” he said. “And I have never been through a bookmaker to bet on sports. …

“Up until a couple days ago, I didn’t know that this was happening. … In conclusion, Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies.”

Ohtani also denied knowingly paying off any alleged gambling debts.

“To the representatives in my camp, Ippei told to the media and representatives that I on behalf of a friend paid off debt,” he said. “Upon further questioning, it was revealed that it was actually in fact Ippei who was in debt and told my representatives that I was paying off those debts.

“All of this has been a complete lie.”

Ohtani also told reporters that Mizuhara misled the Dodgers, telling the team that he had been in communication with Ohtani about the issue when, in fact, he had not.

Ohtani said he first heard about Mizuhara’s alleged gambling during a team meeting after the Dodgers played the San Diego Padres in South Korea last week.

“Up until that team meeting, I didn’t know that Ippei had a gambling addiction and was in debt,” Ohtani said. “Obviously, I never agreed to pay off the debt or make payments to the bookmaker.”

Ohtani said that after the team meeting, he and Mizuhara had a one-on-one meeting at their hotel.

“And it was revealed to me during that meeting, Ippei admitted he was sending money using my account to the bookmaker,” he said. “And at that moment, it was an absurd thing that was happening, and I contacted my representatives at that point.”

Ohtani said that he contacted the Dodgers and his lawyers at that point and that his lawyers recommended he contact “the proper authorities” because “theft and fraud” were in play.

“In conclusion, I do want to make it clear that I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker,” he said.

Ohtani concluded by saying that he was leaving the situation for his lawyers to handle and that he was “completely assisting in all investigations.” He did not take questions.

This saga became public on March 20, with a bombshell ESPN report alleging that Mizuhara, Ohtani’s longtime interpreter and friend, had been accused of a “massive theft” of Ohtani’s funds to cover illegal gambling debts and had been fired by the Dodgers.

ESPN spoke to Mizuhara on March 19 for 90 minutes and laid out the first public version of the story, claiming that Ohtani paid off Mizuhara’s gambling debts via wire transfer to help Mizuhara make a clean break from gambling.

That story didn’t last long, though. By the end of the day, Mizuhara had recanted the whole thing shortly after Ohtani’s attorneys at Berk Brettler LLP released a statement disavowing Mizuhara’s story.

“In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft, and we are turning the matter over to the authorities,” the statement read.

The change in the story from “Ohtani helped Mizuhara” to “Mizuhara stole from Ohtani” is difficult to ignore. It’s also difficult to accept the explanation that Ohtani did not know about wire transfers from his bank account totaling more than $4 million.

In light of all this confusion, MLB announced Friday that they’ve opened an investigation into the situation. Since then, we’ve learned even more about Mizuhara, including apparent inaccuracies on his resume about graduating from UC Riverside and working for the Red Sox and Yankees.

Through all of this, Mizuhara has maintained that he never bet on baseball and that Ohtani had zero to do with his gambling.

Shohei Ohtani interpreter scandal: 4 remaining questions after Dodgers star tells his side of the story

Shohei Ohtani speaks on translator's gambling scandal - but what does it mean?

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After nearly a week of confusion about the actions of his now-fired former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei Ohtani sat in front of reporters Monday and told his side of the story.

The gist of the Los Angeles Dodgers star’s account is that Mizuhara embezzled $4.5 million from him to pay off illegal gambling debts and that Ohtani didn’t know about any of this until Mizuhara told the Dodgers last week that he had a gambling problem. Crucially, Ohtani — who reportedly speaks some English but isn’t fluent — was not told in the prior days about ESPN looking into the matter.

Ohtani divulged all this via a 12-minute statement he read and had translated by his new interpreter, Dodgers employee Will Ireton. Ireton previously translated for Kenta Maeda on the Dodgers before moving into a baseball operations role.

Unlike the story initially told by Mizuhara, in which Ohtani supposedly agreed to pay off those debts himself, this one doesn’t implicate Ohtani in a federal crime. If true, Ohtani is the victim of not just a seven-figure theft but also a betrayal by the person he considered his best friend since arriving in MLB.

It is a wild story, and it leaves us with more questions.

How does no one notice $4.5 million disappearing from an MLB player’s bank account?

Ohtani might presently be the biggest business in MLB, between his record $700 million contract with the Dodgers and his $65 million in annual endorsement income, as estimated by Sportico. Ohtani has raked in an eight-figure annual sum for the past several years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. So you would hope someone is paying attention to his bank accounts.

If the “Mizuhara is a brazen thief” story is true, it truly boggles the mind how no one noticed $4.5 million was missing until the player himself realized what was going on.

A simple answer might be that Mizuhara was uniquely positioned to do something like this. The 39-year-old was known to have a role that went well beyond simply being an interpreter for the most famous baseball player on earth. Mizuhara was interpreter, assistant, friend and even Home Run Derby catcher.

He once told The Athletic that “Speaking is only about 10 percent of the job,” with the rest entailing things like being Ohtani’s catch partner, analyzing baseball data, monitoring Ohtani’s surgery rehab and “a myriad of other duties.” Foreign-speaking baseball players are heavily dependent on their interpreters when no one else on their team speaks the same language. Ohtani’s money didn’t make him any different.

Ohtani’s mother has also been reported to have managed his finances early in his career, so it seems quite possible that the player wasn’t very involved in money-related decisions.

Did no one talk to Shohei Ohtani as ESPN was reporting this story?

The timeline of how this story came to light reportedly goes like this, per Ohtani and ESPN:

      ESPN obtains documents showing Ohtani’s name on $1 million in wire transfers sent to an associate of an allegedly illegal bookie under federal investigation.

 

      ESPN asks Ohtani’s people about it.

 

      Ohtani’s people reach out to Ohtani, who is preparing for the Dodgers’ season opener in South Korea.

 

      Ohtani’s people tell ESPN that Ohtani willingly paid off Mizuhara’s gambling debts, then Mizuhara gives the outlet a 90-minute interview Tuesday (Wednesday morning in Korea) elaborating on the story.

 

      A team meeting is called after the season opener Wednesday in which Mizuhara says he has a gambling problem and a Dodgers official says Ohtani paid off the debts.

 

      Ohtani starts asking questions.

 

    Ohtani’s camp disavows Mizuhara and calls him a thief.

When a massive scandal goes down like that, it’s no wonder people are confused. You will notice a distinct lack of Ohtani’s direct involvement until late in the sequence. Last week, Ohtani was thousands of miles away from his American agent, Nez Balelo, and the crisis communications spokesman reportedly hired to handle this.

Supposedly, Mizuhara used his role as go-between to hide what was happening, as Ohtani said Monday:

“Last weekend in Korea, media had reached out to a representative in my camp, inquiring about my potential involvement in this sports betting.

“Ippei never revealed to me that there was this media inquiry, and to the representatives in my camp, to the media and to my representatives that I on behalf of a friend paid off debt.

“Upon further questioning, it was revealed that it was actually in fact Ippei who was in debt, and told my representatives that I was paying off those debts. All of this has been a complete lie.”

This all begs the question: Did Ohtani’s people — including his agent, spokesman and lawyers, none of whom apparently speak Japanese — really not speak with him through anyone other than the interpreter who, at best, admitted to having a gambling problem and used Ohtani to pay off his debts?

If true, it shows a stunning level of incompetence on the side of Ohtani’s camp and further illustrates how far Mizuhara was ingrained in Ohtani’s life.

What exactly was Ippei Mizuhara’s plan here?

Usually, when criminals commit crimes — and that’s what Ohtani’s people are alleging Mizuhara is and did — you expect them to at least make sense for the criminal.

Does this all make sense for Mizuhara? Did he really expect to take $4.5 million out of Ohtani’s coffers unnoticed? Did he really think no one was going to talk to the player himself as ESPN circled? Did he really let all this play out until it came crashing down spectacularly on his head?

Throughout all of this, Mizuhara has been painted as a desperate person, a gambling addict who used his rich friend’s money, either with or without his blessing, to pay off debts on money he didn’t have. It has since emerged that Mizuhara’s pre-Ohtani résumé, from high school to meeting Ohtani, contains fabrications.

It’s possible that Mizuhara took the simplest route in front of him until he was standing in front of Ohtani, trying to claim the player himself bailed him out, but that would be an astounding way to address a no-win situation.

When will we get a resolution to all this?

The good news about Ohtani’s claims is they remove a lot of gray areas.

Forget trying to figure out what was said between Ohtani and Mizuhara. If Mizuhara really “has been stealing money from [Ohtani’s] account and told lies,” this story and its resolution are pretty cut and dried.

Ohtani is accusing Mizuhara of straight-up embezzling money from his bank account, which is something the authorities can investigate through forensic accounting. They can figure out how Mizuhara allegedly accessed the account and, even better, find out whether he fabricated Ohtani’s name on the wire transfer.

And if Ohtani was lying Monday, that would be pretty apparent, too.

The other question is who exactly is looking into this. MLB and the IRS have both said they are investigating the matter. ESPN reported Friday that neither the California Bureau of Investigation nor the FBI — the agencies more involved with crimes such as embezzlement — was working on the case, nor were law enforcement in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California reportedly declined comment.

Obviously, any of those agencies could start taking a look, given the stakes involved. If Ohtani was telling the truth, he and MLB can only hope they arrive at an answer soon.

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