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Shohei Ohtani Speaks on Gambling Scandal for First Time in Prepared Statement

MLB star Shohei Ohtani claims he was lied to by interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, who stole his money, and says he "never agreed to pay off the debt."

In his first public comments since news of the gambling scandal involving his longtime interpreter broke, Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani attempted to distance himself from the controversy.

Reading off notes in a packed interview room at Dodger Stadium, Ohtani said on Monday, March 25 he has never gambled on sports and did not instruct his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, to wire money from his account to pay a bookmaker.

The Dodgers fired Mizuhara on March 20 amid allegations of "massive theft" while they were in South Korea facing the San Diego Padres in MLB's season-opening Seoul Series.

Through his new interpreter Will Ireton, Ohtani said Mizuhara "has been stealing money from my account" and "has told lies."

On a personal note, Ohtani said he was "shocked and saddened that someone I've trusted has done this."

The media briefing lasted for about 12 minutes and, unfortunately, Ohtani didn't take questions because there were no doubt many.

Not least of which is how could Ohtani give Mizuhara such access to his personal bank account and not notice $4.5 million USD (about ¥680 million JPY) went missing?

Ippei Mizuhara (©SANKEI)

The Backstory of the Scandal

Mizuhara initially claimed that Ohtani had agreed to pay off his debts but recanted that version of events presumably when it became apparent the payments were made to an illegal bookie who was under investigation by US tax authorities.

That could have put Ohtani in legal jeopardy. Mizuhara then changed his story, saying Ohtani had no knowledge of the payments.

Ohtani's lawyers have accused Mizuhara of wiring money from Ohtani's bank account unbeknownst to their client.

The MLB star went on to provide further explanation.

"I never agreed to pay off the debt, nor asked him to send money to the bookmaker, nor gave him permission to do so," Ohtani said.

Skepticism About Mizuhara's Wire Transfers

Ohtani said he did not know about the debt or about the gambling addiction until Mizuhara spoke to the team last week in Seoul. Given how close the two have been over the years this also seems hard to fathom.

As an online article in Forbes Magazine pointed out, sending such large sums through wire transfers from someone else's account without their knowledge until several months later is nearly impossible.

After all, as anyone who has ever made a bank transfer knows, all sorts of documentation and verification is required.

At the very least, wouldn't the bank personally contact Ohtani to get his approval? And wouldn't Ohtani periodically check his bank account?

The most likely explanation for all this is that Ohtani did, in an attempt to help his friend out, make the payments not realizing they were being made to an illegal bookie who was under investigation.

Ohtani was/is between a rock and hard place. It's a problem that potentially invites trouble with both MLB and the Internal Revenue Service.

Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani plays catch before a game at Dodger Stadium on March 25. (©SANKEI)

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MLB Prohibits Players From Gambling on Baseball

MLB players are not allowed to gamble on baseball. However, they are permitted to make wagers on other sports through online betting sites just like any other citizen.

Oddly, California is one of a dozen states that has not legalized sports betting, thus creating an opening for illegal bookies to operate.

It's a terrible jam Ohtani has found himself in even though his intentions may have been good. 

For now, Ohtani seems to have bought himself some time and has said he will let the lawyers handle things so he and his Dodgers teammates can focus on the upcoming season.

If faced with serious punishment, it will be interesting to see if Mizuhara accepts this version of events. It's hard to imagine he would.

MLB has opened its own investigation into the matter. Ohtani is expected to continue playing for the Dodgers while the investigation unfolds.

'I'm Beyond Shocked,' Says Shohei Ohtani

Ohtani won the American League's MVP Award unanimously in 2021 and 2023. In December, he signed a record 10-year, $700 million (more than ¥100 billion) contract with the Dodgers after spending six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.

In summary, Ohtani said, "I'm beyond shocked. It's really hard to verbalize how I am feeling at this point. And the season is going to start so obviously, I am going to let my lawyers handle this from here on out."

Whether it's that simple remains to be seen.

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.

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