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Shohei Ohtani speaks amid betting scandal

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The biggest name in baseball, Shohei Ohtani, said this afternoon that he has not bet on baseball and that he feels betrayed by his longtime interpreter. Ohtani's interpreter was fired last week after reports emerged that he had accrued gambling debts of around $4.5 million with an alleged illegal bookmaking operation, and money from Ohtani's bank account was used to pay off those debts. And when the story first broke, there were conflicting stories about how the money got there. Reporter Steve Futterman joins us now from Dodger Stadium, where he listened to Ohtani's statement. Hey there.

STEVE FUTTERMAN: Hi, Scott.

DETROW: What more did Ohtani say about this growing scandal?

FUTTERMAN: Well, Scott, Ohtani spoke to reporters wearing his LA baseball cap and blue Dodger hoodie. It was a jam-packed media room, more than, I'd say, 80 people inside. Sitting next to him was his new interpreter. Ohtani spoke for just a bit less than 12 minutes. As I said, the room was jammed. And he said simply - and this was a blanket denial - that he has never bet on sports or baseball. Let's take a listen to part of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHOHEI OHTANI: (Through interpreter) So, you know, in conclusion, I do want to make it clear that I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker.

FUTTERMAN: Now, that was through his interpreter. Ohtani echoed what his lawyers have said earlier, that he has been the victim of a massive theft. Now, initially, when they were in South Korea last week, the interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, claimed that Ohtani was aware of his gambling debts and willingly paid them off for him, but then backtracked 24 hours later and said Ohtani had no idea. So for the last week, many have been asking which stories have been true, and Ohtani pretty much said his story is true.

DETROW: Right. But there's been such a focus on this discrepancy. Did this statement today give any more clarity to what the real story is?

FUTTERMAN: Well, perhaps. We should point out, as of now, no one has ever said that Ohtani himself gambled. Although, you know, social media the last week has been awash with all sorts of conspiratorial comments, things like the interpreter is covering up for Ohtani or allowing himself to be the fall guy. But Ohtani looked emotional and seemed like he wanted to make everything clear. He didn't take questions. He used the statement to guide his comments, which the interpreter translated for him. But very clearly, Ohtani said he never bet on sports, never bet on baseball, had no idea that the money was being taken from his account and never agreed to pay off Mizuhara's debts.

DETROW: What did Ohtani have to say about his former interpreter, who we should point out was a close friend?

FUTTERMAN: Oh, very close friend. Ohtani and Mizuhara have been a very tight, almost best friends since before he even entered the major leagues. The interpreter was with Ohtani when he came to the U.S. six years ago to play for the LA Angels, made the move with Ohtani here to the Dodgers for this season. He basically said that he committed fraud, and he stole from him. One issue that we will still want to hear Ohtani comment on is how he could not know so much money has been taken from his account. But we've seen other people over the years, very wealthy people who sometimes have money taken and they don't realize it. Ohtani said he was limited in what he could say because of the ongoing investigation.

DETROW: Steve, we've got about 20 seconds left. How has Major League Baseball responded to all of this?

FUTTERMAN: Well, they're conducting an investigation. And they're not the only ones conducting an investigation. The federal government's involved in this bookmaking scandal here in Southern California. And the IRS is also looking into it.

DETROW: All right - more to come, probably. That's reporter Steve Futterman at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Thanks so much.

FUTTERMAN: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Steve Futterman
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