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Baseball star Ohtani 'shocked' by alleged theft

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Shohei Ohtani says he is "beyond shocked" that his translator allegedly stole his money for illegal sports betting.

The Japanese baseball star's long-time interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, was fired by the Los Angeles Dodgers last week after allegations of theft connected to illegal gambling.

Ohtani said he was "very saddened" that "someone who I trusted has done this".

The two-time Major League Baseball MVP is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Ohtani's legal representatives have accused Mr Mizuhara of "massive theft". The Internal Revenue Service is conducting a criminal investigation, while the US baseball league is also carrying out a probe.

The baseball star read a prepared statement to reporters on Monday, as he attempted to clarify the controversy surrounding his translator and close companion.

Ohtani said he had never participated in sports betting and was not aware Mr Mizuhara was funnelling millions of dollars from the baseball player's bank account to pay off the translator's debts.

According to ESPN, at least $4.5m (£3.5m) was transferred from Ohtani's bank account to a bookmaker.

Sports betting is legal in 38 states in America but it remains illegal in California. The MLB has its own rules against sports betting as well.

Monday's news conference came after Ohtani's translator initially told ESPN that he had asked the baseball star for help with his gambling debts and Ohtani had agreed.

"Obviously, [Ohtani] wasn't happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again," Mr Mizuhara told the outlet.

At first, representatives for Ohtani backed up this claim to the media, but later retracted the statement when Mr Mizuhara was fired.

The baseball player said on Monday that "all of this has been a complete lie".

Shohei Ohtani
Ohtani says he is letting his lawyers handle the alleged fraud while he focuses on the season

Ohtani added that Mr Mizuhara had not told him of reporters' questions about the scandal and that the translator lied to Ohtani's representatives, telling them the Japanese baseball star had in fact agreed to pay off his debts.

The star pitcher said Mr Mizuhara first told him about his gambling problem after the Dodgers' season opener in South Korea last week. Mr Mizuhara asked him to meet one-on-one, telling him about his "massive debt". Ohtani said.

"I never agreed to pay off the debt or make payments to the bookmaker," Ohtani said via the translator.

Ohtani said he had referred the matter to his lawyers, who would handle the situation while he focused on the upcoming season.

Mr Ohtani started his stint in the US in 2018, and Mr Mizuhara has been his constant companion since.

But the translator's record has come under scrutiny in light of the scandal.

The University of California, Riverside released a statement saying they had no record of Mr Mizuhara ever attending the university, despite what the translator included in his public biography.

And the Boston Red Sox said Mr Mizuhara was never employed as an interpreter by the franchise, although news reports and a Los Angeles Angels media guide had said so.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said earlier this week he supported Ohtani's decision to address the controversy.

"I'm happy he's going to speak and speak to what he knows and give his thoughts on the whole situation," he told a news conference on Sunday.

Ohtani played last week in front of a sell-out crowd during a two-game series between the LA Dodgers and San Diego Padres in Seoul, South Korea.

Last December, Ohtani signed a record 10-year, $700m contract with the Dodgers, becoming the face of the sports franchise.