Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara pleads guilty to fraud in US

Shohei Ohtani
# 09 May 2024 04:29 (UTC +04:00)

The former interpreter of Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani has agreed to plead guilty to US charges that he illegally transferred nearly $17m (£14m) from the athlete's bank account, APA reports.

In a deal between Ippei Mizuhara and Los Angeles prosecutors, he will plead guilty to counts of bank fraud and subscribing to a false tax return.

Prosecutors say he used the LA Dodgers star's money to pay off his own debts.

The case shocked baseball fans in Japan and America when news broke in March.

"The extent of this defendant's deception and theft is massive," US Attorney Martin Estrada said. "He took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit."

Prosecutors allege that Mr Mizuhara, 39, had called bank officials and "falsely identified himself as [Mr] Ohtani to trick employees into authorizing wire transfers from [Mr] Ohtani's bank account to associates of the illegal gambling operation".

From January to March this year, Mr Mizuhara also allegedly purchased $325,000 in baseball cards using money taken from Mr Ohtani's account.

The bank fraud charge is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and the false tax return charge carries a sentence of up to three years in jail.

According to the deal, prosecutors would recommend a reduced sentence in exchange for Mr Mizuhara's plea. He is expected to enter the plea in the coming weeks.

He was fired in March as news of the allegations emerged. At the time, Mr Ohtani, 29, said he was "saddened and shocked" that someone he had trusted had "done this".

Mr Ohtani signed a record 10-year, $700m contract with the Dodgers before this season, becoming the face of the sports franchise. He had just won his second unanimous American League MVP award.

Mr Mizuhara had been a constant companion since the baseball star's stint in the US started in 2018. Earlier this year, he and his wife were seen in a picture that revealed Mr Ohtani's wife, Mamiko Tanaka, after weeks of speculation.

His ability to interpret Mr Ohtani's comments into colloquial English had been widely praised in Japan.

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