Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara to plead guilty to fraud in US

Ippei Mizuhara. File photo
Ippei Mizuhara [USA Today Sports]

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

In a deal between Ippei Mizuhara and Los Angeles prosecutors, he will plead guilty to counts of bank fraud and subscribing to 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 America when news broke in March.

"The extent of this defendant's deception and theft is massive," US Attorney Martin Estrada said. "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, had 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 in baseball cards using money taken from Mr Ohtani's account.

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

According to the deal, prosecutors would recommend a reduced sentence in exchange for Mr Mizuhara's plea. He is expected to enter the plea in the coming weeks.

He was fired in March as news of the allegations emerged. At the time, Mr Ohtani, 29, said he was "saddened and shocked" that someone he had trusted had "done this".

Mr Ohtani signed a record 10-year, $700m 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 superstar status was cemented last February when he announced that had gotten married, sparking weeks of speculation about the identity of his wife, whom he did not name at that time. The guessing game ended a month later when he shared a photo of his wife, Mamiko Tanaka.

Mr Mizuhara had been a constant companion since the baseball star's stint in the US started in 2018.

Mr Ohtani, who does not speak English, had relied extensively on his interpreter - from answering questions at news conferences to transacting with financial advisers and opening bank accounts.

Mr Mizuhara's ability to interpret Mr Ohtani's comments into colloquial English had been widely praised in Japan.