Berliner Tageblatt - Ohtani interpreter due in court after $16 mn theft charges

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Ohtani interpreter due in court after $16 mn theft charges
Ohtani interpreter due in court after $16 mn theft charges / Photo: © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

Ohtani interpreter due in court after $16 mn theft charges

Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter surrendered to federal authorities in Los Angeles on Friday, a day after being charged with stealing $16 million from the Japanese baseball star's bank account to cover gambling losses, the US Justice Department said.

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Ippei Mizuhara, 39, is expected to make his first appearance in federal court at around 1pm local time Friday (2000 GMT), but is not expected to enter a plea, prosecutors said.

The New York Times reported this week that Mizuhara was in negotiations with federal prosecutors over a possible plea deal in connection with the case.

On Thursday, US Attorney Martin Estrada told a packed press conference in Los Angeles that Mizuhara had abused his position as Ohtani's "de facto manager" to plunder the Los Angeles Dodgers ace's bank account.

Ohtani, the biggest star in baseball, joined the Dodgers last December in a record-breaking $700 million deal -- the richest contract in North American sports history.

A criminal complaint detailing allegations of bank fraud against Mizuhara said the translator -- Ohtani's long-time friend and confidant -- transferred more than $16 million from the baseball star's bank account "to pay off his own substantial gambling debts incurred with an illegal bookmaking operation."

Estrada said there was no evidence to suggest Ohtani was aware of or involved in Mizuhara's illegal gambling activity.

"I want to emphasize this point: Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case," Estrada said.

Major League Baseball's gambling policy bars "any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee" from betting on baseball or making illegal bets on any other sport.

Players found guilty of betting on a game they were involved in are subject to life bans, with one-year suspensions if they are found to have gambled on games they are not directly involved in.

Ohtani is a rarity in baseball in that he combines elite level pitching and hitting ability, making him a generational talent who has been portrayed as a modern-day version of Babe Ruth.

Those skills and his clean-cut image have made him the global face of baseball.

Bank fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

T.Bondarenko--BTB