Baseball: Superstar Shohei Ohtani claims interpreter stole money, denies knowledge of gambling debts

Shohei Ohtani.
Shohei Ohtani. Photo credit: Getty Images

Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani said Monday in his first comments on a gambling investigation that he never bet on sports and his fired interpreter Ippei Mizuhara stole money from him to cover "a massive debt" and lied about it.

"I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do it on my behalf, and I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports," Ohtani said through Will Ireton, the Dodgers' manager of performance operations, who translated. "Up until a couple of days ago, I didn't know this was happening."

Mizuhara was accused of "massive theft" on Wednesday by Ohtani's lawyers after it was learned that at least US$4.5 million (NZ$7.49m) of Ohtani's money had been sent through wire transfers to a bookmaking operation under federal investigation. Mizuhara was fired by the Dodgers on Wednesday.

Major League Baseball announced Friday that it has opened an investigation into the allegations involving Ohtani and Mizuhara.

"To summarize how I'm feeling right now, I'm just beyond shocked and it's really hard to verbalize how I'm feeling at this point," Ohtani said at a news conference in Los Angeles, after which he did not take questions.

Ohtani with interpreter Ippei Mizuhara earlier this month.
Ohtani with interpreter Ippei Mizuhara earlier this month. Photo credit: Getty Images

He explained that he is limited in what he can talk about during the investigation, he is letting his lawyers handle matters and he is cooperating with authorities.

Ohtani said that Mizuhara didn't tell him that media had contacted his representatives about a gambling investigation but told them that he had paid off debts for "a friend."

"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 this debt," Ohtani said. "All of this has been a complete lie."

The IRS said Thursday that Mizuhara and the alleged illegal bookmaker, Mathew Bowyer, are being investigated by the agency's Los Angeles field office.

Ohtani said the first time he knew about what he called Mizuhara's "gambling addiction" and debt was after the team's first game of the season, played in South Korea on March 20 against the San Diego Padres.

"During the team meeting, Ippei was speaking in English and I didn't have a translator on my side. But even with that, I kind of understood what was going on and started to feel there was something amiss," Ohtani said.

Mizuhara had asked that they talk one-on-one after the team meeting, so Ohtani waited at the hotel, he said. That's when he learned about the "massive debt" and that Mizuhara was sending money from his account to a bookmaker.

"Obviously, I never agreed to pay off the debt or make payments to the bookmaker," Ohtani said. "At that moment, it was an absurd thing that was happening and I contacted my representatives."

His lawyers and the Dodgers had been lied to as well, Ohtani said. His lawyers advised him that this was a case of theft and fraud, and to let the proper authorities handle it.

"I am very saddened and shocked someone whom I trusted has done this," Ohtani said.

Mizuhara has been interpreting for Ohtani since the two-way superstar debuted with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017.

Ohtani signed a record-setting 10-year, $700m (NZ$1.1 billion) deal with the Dodgers in December after batting .304 with an American League-leading 44 homers and 95 RBIs in 2023, when he earned his second AL MVP.