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Former Shohei Ohtani performer Ippei Mizuhara pleads guilty to fraud in the United States

  • By Jaroslav Loukiv
  • BBC News

Image source, USA Today Sports

Legend, Ippei Mizuhara

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

As part of a deal between Ippei Mizuhara and Los Angeles prosecutors, he will plead guilty to bank fraud and filing 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 the United States when the news broke in March.

“The scale of this defendant’s deception and theft is enormous,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada. “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, 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 worth of baseball cards using money taken from Mr Ohtani’s account.

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

Under the agreement, prosecutors would recommend a reduced sentence in exchange for Mr. Mizuhara’s plea. He is expected to plead guilty in the coming weeks.

He was fired in March when news of the allegations came to light. At the time, Mr Ohtani, 29, said he was “saddened and shocked” that someone he trusted had “done this”.

Video caption, Watch: Ohtani says ‘sad and shocked’ after theft allegations surrounding performer

Mr. Ohtani signed a record $700 million, 10-year 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.

His ability to interpret Mr. Ohtani’s comments into colloquial English was widely praised in Japan.