MLB launches investigation of Ohtani and ex-interpreter scandal

<a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Shohei Ohtani;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Shohei Ohtani</a>, left, speaks with interpreter Ippei Mizuhara prior to being introduced by the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Los Angeles Dodgers;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Los Angeles Dodgers</a> at Dodger Stadium in December 2023 (Meg Oliphant)

Major League Baseball on Friday announced a formal investigation into the scandal swirling around Shohei Ohtani and his former interpreter amid charges the Los Angeles Dodgers superstar was the victim of "massive theft."

The Dodgers fired Ippei Mizuhara, Ohtani's long-time interpreter and close friend, on Thursday after Ohtani's representatives alleged the Japanese two-way star had been the victim of theft, which was reported to involve millions of dollars and link Mizuhara to a suspected illegal bookmaker in California.

"Major League Baseball has been gathering information since we learned about the allegations involving Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhara from the news media," Major League Baseball said in a statement.

"Earlier today, our Department of Investigations (DOI) began their formal process investigating the matter."

ESPN reported that MLB is expected to request interviews with all parties, including Ohtani and Mizuhara, although officials cannot compel Mizuhara's cooperation because he no longer works in the major leagues.

The murky affair emerged this week when West Hollywood law firm Berk and Brettler issued a statement on behalf of Ohtani after receiving media inquiries about a reported federal investigation into alleged illegal bookmaker Mathew Bowyer in which Ohtani's name surfaced.

"In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities," the law firm said.

ESPN reported that questions had arisen around "at least $4.5 million in wire transfers sent from Ohtani's bank account" to an associate for Bowyer.

ESPN said that multiple sources, including Mizuhara himself, told the media outlet that Ohtani doesn't gamble and that the funds covered Mizuhara's losses.

Bowyer's lawyer, Diane Bass, told the Los Angeles Times that Bowyer had never had any contact with Ohtani.

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.

While sports betting has been legalized in a majority of US states, online betting and retail sports books remain illegal in California.

Ohtani himself has yet to comment on the affair, which has sparked intense speculation around MLB as the 2024 season gets underway.

The 29-year-old two-way star, who has been likened to a modern-day version of Babe Ruth, has emerged as the global face of the game.

He joined the Dodgers in December on a 10-year deal worth a stunning $700 million after playing six MLB seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.

Ohtani and the Dodgers were greeted by ecstatic crowds when the team played two regular-season games against the San Diego Padres in South Korea this week.

- Conflicting accounts -

The club's Ohtani era began with a 5-2 victory over the Padres in Seoul before news of the matter broke.

The Dodgers confirmed they had sacked Mizuhara before falling to the Padres 15-11 in the second game.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had insisted it was "business as normal" for his team, but their new superstar will be under scrutiny as they prepare for their home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.

While lawyers for Ohtani said had been the victim of theft, ESPN reported that before that allegation Mizuhara completed an interview with the sports outlet in which he claimed Ohtani had actually paid off his gambling debts of at least $4.5 million.

Before that interview was published, however, Mizuhara altered his story and said Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling debts and did not transfer the money from his accounts himself.

CNN reported on Friday that the Internal Revenue Service is involved in an investigation involving Bowyer and Mizuhara.

Mizuhara, who was born in Japan but brought up in Southern California, became Ohtani's personal interpreter when he signed with the Angels in 2017 and followed him to the Dodgers.