Shohei Ohtani’s side of gambling scandal story doesn’t add up

Shohei Ohtani spoke to the media on Monday evening, his first appearance since news broke of a bizarre, swirling gambling scandal that named the Dodgers star. A series of back-and-forth statements and accusations eventually implicated former translator Ippei Mizuhara of theft and fraud, allegedly stealing $4.5 million from Ohtani to pay off illegal gambling debt.

This explanation by Ohtani’s lawyers raised more questions than it answered, and Ohtani’s statement on Monday didn’t clear anything up. Choosing not to field any questions from the media, the Dodgers star instead issued a statement which largely echoed what we’d heard before.

“I never bet on baseball, any other sports or never have asked somebody to do on my behalf. And I have never went through a bookmaker, to bet on sports. Up until a couple of days ago, I didn’t know that this was happening. Just to kind of just go over the result. In conclusion, Ippei has been stealing money from my account, and has told lies. […] Ippei told to the media and to my representatives that I, you know, on behalf of a friend paid off debt. Upon further questioning it was revealed that it was actually in fact Ippei who was in debt, and told my representatives that I was paying off those debts. All of this has been a complete lie. […] Obviously I never agreed to pay off the debt or you know, make payments to the bookmaker.”

The fundamental problem is that this account really doesn’t make a lot of sense. This version of events, which aims to completely divorce Ohtani from any wrongdoing, requires dozens of layers of checks and balances to be ignored, nobody having the wherewithal to catch massive fraud, and relies on the premise that Ippei, a long-term friend, had the nefariousness to steal money from Ohtani, but not hide it.

Since Ohtani and his lawyers aren’t willing to answer any questions about the incident, citing an investigation — here’s what we want to know.

Why did Ippei have access to Ohtani’s banking accounts?

Regardless of the fact that Ippei was a close friend and Ohtani’s translator, it’s wholly bizarre that he would have the kind of extensive access to money required to initiate a wire transfer. This is a man who wasn’t Ohtani’s personal assistant, nor was he ever listed as a financial advisor of any kind.

It’s unclear how, or why Ippei had the kind of control over an athlete’s money typically only reserved to high-level bankers or legal representatives who are on retainer.

Why did nobody else manage this money?

Ohtani is represented by CAA Sports, one of the largest agencies in the world. The amount of access to money managers, financial advisors, and bankers purely because of his representation is second-to-none.

There are people in Ohtani’s orbit who are experienced at managing money of athletes and handling their finances. Obviously someone advised Ohtani on his back-loaded contract he signed with the Dodgers. So why, with so many people in the room, did Ohtani lean on Ippei to handle this role instead of literally anyone else?

How was Ohtani unaware his money had been stolen?

Part of the mystique of Shohei Ohtani has always been this mythos of his laser-focus on baseball, with an aloofness about everything else in life. Whether that’s true, or part of the branding behind him, it’s really the only way you can imagine he would be unaware of $4.5 million leaving his bank account.

To be clear: Ohtani is very wealthy, but he’s not stratospherically rich yet. To this point he’s earned approximately $42M from MLB, with other funds coming from endorsement deals and his earnings in Japan.

It would be one thing to simply not notice $4.5M missing when you have hundreds of millions in the bank, but the nature of Ohtani’s back-loaded Dodgers’ contract means that he needs to manage his money closer than most athletes. It’s very difficult to imagine that this kind of sum of money could simply leave his account without anyone noticing.

Why did Ohtani’s representatives take Ippei at his word when they released their first statement to ESPN?

When the media reached out to Ohtani’s camp for comment on the gambling controversy it was met with an initial response to ESPN that Ohtani was paying off Ippei’s gambling debt. That would have been a tremendous expense, but understandable when it comes to their relationship, and Ohtani being an incredible friend.

Now why, when it comes to something as serious as a payment to an illegal bookmaker, would representatives for Ohtani simply take his translator at his word, instead of immediately finding out what was happening from Ohtani? The profound difference between “paying off a friend’s debt” and “he stole $4.5M from me” was worth confirming with Ohtani himself — but we don’t know what exactly happened.

Where does this leave us?

An investigation is underway, which could take a tremendous amount of time. When it comes to the MLB’s internal review they want this to drag out. Major League Baseball has a vested interest in Ohtani staying on the field and being marketable for the entire season.

Everything when it comes to this story exists on a spectrum. On the one side a Shohei Ohtani who is completely innocent of everything and truly got robbed, on the other its’ Ohtani being the gambler with Ippei as his fall guy.

Neither of these extremes make sense. There are massive holes in each of them. So, like most things, the truth probably exists somewhere in the middle. It’s entirely likely that Shohei was helping out his friend, bailing him out of a horrific gambling debt — but had no idea about the illegality surrounding paying an illegal bookmaker.

This would best explain how the damage control stepped in, why the statements were reversed, and how Ippei is now being required to take the hit, rather than Ohtani. There are still problems with this theory though, because that would mean Ippei was potentially willing to go to prison for his friend.

The only thing that is certain is that this is all messy, and it’ll be a while before we know what truly happened — if at all.

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