Shohei Ohtani's former translator Ippei Mizuhara. GETTY IMAGES

Ippei Mizuhara, the former translator for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani, has pleaded guilty to stealing millions from the Japanese baseball hero to pay off illegal gambling debts.

Mizuhara, who had been by Ohtani's side since he arrived at the Los Angeles Angels in 2018, signed a plea agreement detailing the charges on 5 May, which prosecutors announced days later.

The interpreter admitted one count of bank fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. He also admitted one count of filing a false tax return, which has a maximum three-year jail sentence. U.S. District Judge John Holcomb has scheduled sentencing for 25 October.

Mizuhara’s appearance took place in a federal court in Santa Ana, California, surrounded by photographers, after reaching an agreement with prosecutors as part of a broader federal investigation into illegal sports betting. During the hearing, Mizuhara admitted to accessing Ohtani’s bank accounts to satisfy his "insatiable appetite" for gambling.

"I worked for Ohtani and had access to his accounts. I got into debt from gambling, and the only way I could think of (paying the debt) was to access his money," he confessed during his statement. "I wired money for my gambling debt from his account."

Shohei Ohtani in action for the Los Angeles Dodgers. GETTY IMAGES
Shohei Ohtani in action for the Los Angeles Dodgers. GETTY IMAGES

Ohtani, the star pitcher and hitter for the Dodgers, signed the richest contract in North American sports history last December, valued at $700 million (€640m).

Mizuhara had worked for Ohtani since his arrival in California six years ago and opened a bank account for the player in Arizona, according to federal prosecutor Martin Estrada, who also claimed that Mizuhara’s modus operandi involved allegedly lying to bank officials, posing as Ohtani to "convince the bank to approve large money transfers to betting houses".

Following Mizuhara’s guilty plea, the Dodgers issued a statement expressing relief at putting the matter behind them and reiterating that Ohtani was an “innocent victim of his interpreter’s deceit". The investigations revealed no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Dodgers star who, according to Mizuhara, “was unaware of the illegal gambling”.

Mizuhara’s confession brings an apparent end to a long and complex investigation, revealing that he had taken advantage of his trusted position and the language barrier between Ohtani and his new American home.

According to federal prosecutors, Mizuhara lied to bank officials and impersonated Ohtani in phone calls to authorise large money transfers. It is estimated that the former translator stole up to $17 million (€15.6m) from Ohtani’s account, a figure that has shocked the baseball world and fans of the Japanese player.

In a statement, Ohtani expressed his relief at the resolution of the case and thanked the authorities for their thorough work. "This full admission of guilt has brought significant closure for me and my family," Ohtani said. "It is time to close this chapter, move forward, and continue focusing on playing and winning games."