Shohei Ohtani says he never bet on sports in first remarks since Ippei Mizuhara accusations



Shohei Ohtani finally broke his silence Monday afternoon.

And in a prepared 12-minute statement to reporters at Dodger Stadium, the Japanese star accused his former interpreter and close friend, Ippei Mizuhara, of “theft and fraud” related to payments made from Ohtani’s account to an illegal Orange County bookmaking operation.

In front of a packed news conference room in the bowels of his new home ballpark, Ohtani said he has never bet on sports or anything else, never been asked to make bets on someone else’s behalf and never used a bookmaker for sports gambling activities.

He claimed Mizuhara had secretly stolen his funds to pay off debts Mizuhara allegedly owed to an illegal bookmaker.

He said that, up until last week, he had no knowledge of Mizuhara’s gambling activities; of media inquiries to his representatives asking about wire payments made from his accounts to that of an associate of Mathew Bowyer, the allegedly illegal bookmaker; or that Mizuhara had told members of Ohtani’s own public relations team that Ohtani himself had made the payments, knowingly, to cover Mizuhara’s debts.

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies,” Ohtani said through his new interpreter, Will Ireton, calling Mizuhara’s initial account of events — the one in which Mizuhara claimed Ohtani had made the payments to cover his debts — a “complete lie.”

“I never agreed to pay off the debt or make payments to the bookmaker,” Ohtani added.

“I’m just beyond shocked. It’s really hard to verbalize how I am feeling at this point.”

Ohtani’s statement — his first public comments since The Times first reported on the scandal last Wednesday — came after a week of intense public speculation regarding the allegations his camp had made against Mizuhara, and the conflicting stories both parties had offered to ESPN in the lead-up to Mizuhara’s firing.

A day before The Times’ story was published, Mizuhara gave an on-the-record interview to ESPN, which was also investigating connections law enforcement authorities had found between Ohtani and Bowyer.

In that interview, which ESPN said was facilitated by an unnamed “crisis-communications spokesman” for Ohtani, Mizuhara initially claimed Ohtani was not only aware of his interpreter’s gambling habits but had paid off Mizuhara’s gambling debts to Bowyer, supposedly making the wire transfers himself to one of Bowyer’s associates.

“Obviously, [Ohtani] wasn’t happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again,” Mizuhara told ESPN last Tuesday, while clarifying that Ohtani had not made any bets himself. “He decided to pay it off for me.”

Before either The Times or ESPN published stories on the scandal, however, both the unnamed Ohtani’s spokesperson and Mizuhara himself recanted that account of the events to ESPN, the outlet reported.

Instead, last Wednesday, the West Hollywood law firm Berk Brettler, which has also been representing Ohtani, asserted that, “In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft.”

Later that day, Mizuhara was fired by the Dodgers during the team’s season-opening series in Seoul.

In the week since, both Major League Baseball and the Internal Revenue Service announced they had opened their own investigations into the situation, in addition to the ongoing federal investigation into Bowyer’s alleged operation.

Ohtani, who had declined to comment to reporters multiple times amid the firestorm of the scandal, finally said on Sunday afternoon that he would speak Monday.

Ohtani entered the news conference room accompanied by club president Stan Kasten, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, general manager Brandon Gomes, manager Dave Roberts, teammates Joe Kelly and Kiké Hernández and other club officials.

He opened his statement — which was written down in Japanese on two white sheets of paper inside a black folder — by saying he was “very sad and shocked that someone who I trusted has done this.”

He said he was limited from saying some things because of the multiple ongoing investigations into the situation.

He then immediately declared that he had never gambled, on sports or anything else.

Ohtani, who signed a record $700-million contract with the Dodgers this offseason after spending his first six major league seasons with the Angels, then accused Mizuhara, who was his personal interpreter throughout his time in the majors, of concocting a series of lies to hide his alleged gambling debts.

Ohtani said that when his representatives were approached by media outlets inquiring about the wire transfers from his account, his representatives went to Mizuhara — and not to Ohtani directly — to relay the questions they had received.

However, Ohtani said Mizuhara never brought the issue to him directly. Instead, he claimed Mizuhara lied to his representatives, saying Ohtani had made the payments himself to cover Mizuhara’s debts.

Only once Mizuhara and Dodgers executives informed the team at large about the situation following their opening-day game in South Korea last Wednesday, Ohtani claimed, did he discover that anything was “amiss.”

“Up until that team meeting,” Ohtani said, “I didn’t know Ippei had a gambling addiction and was in debt.”

After that team meeting — in which players were told a story similar to the one Mizuhara first told ESPN — Ohtani and Mizuhara had a one-on-one meeting at the team hotel to discuss the situation.

That’s when Ohtani said Mizuhara came clean, telling him he had a “massive debt” and “was using my account and sending money to the bookmaker,” Ohtani said.

After their conversation, Ohtani said he contacted his lawyers, who in turn contacted the Dodgers, to tell them about Mizuhara’s alleged actions. Mizuhara was fired by the team shortly thereafter.

“It was an absurd thing that was happening,” Ohtani said. “I contacted my representatives at that point.”

Ohtani also said his lawyers told him they would contact the authorities regarding the alleged theft. Ohtani added he would cooperate with the police on any investigation into Mizuhara.

“I’m looking forward to focusing on the season,” Ohtani said. “I’m sure there will be continuing investigations moving forward.”

Then, Ohtani stood up and walked out of the room, without taking a question from any of the dozens of reporters.



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