MUFG downplays part of its partnership with the baseball star following his interpreter’s gambling scandal.

There probably isn’t a single person more widely admired and respected in all of Japan than Shohei Ohtani. A generational talent on the baseball field with a humble personality and clean-cut, baby-face looks, he’s become a national hero, someone seen as an unofficial ambassador for Japan and its people to the rest of the world.

That status has made Ohtani the single most desirable pitchman for Japanese companies, and his incredibly lucrative endorsement deals have been cited as a reason why he’s agreed to defer a huge portion of his salary with the Los Angeles Dodgers until the end of his contract. Doing so gives the team salary cap space to sign other stars and boost the team’s chances of winning a championship while Ohtani is with the club, and with the fortune he’s making from endorsements, estimated to be around US$40 million a year, it’s not like he really needs his baseball cash right now anyway.

However, one of Ohtani’s endorsements is pretty awkward in light of the shocking scandal involving his long-time interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. The details are still fuzzy, but the current gist is that money was transferred from Ohtani’s bank account to an illegal bookie to cover losses Mizuhara had incurred from gambling on sports.

So it feels a little weird to see Ohtani in ads like this for one of his biggest endorsement partners, MUFG Bank.

“I can never stop thinking about baseball. I believe there are still so many things I have to do to get better,” Ohtani says as the video opens. Then the narrator comes in with “The importance of piling up one [success] after another. It’s the same in investing. The only thing that determines tomorrow is what we do today. That’s what we believe,” while there’s a cut to someone using MUFG Bank’s smartphone app.

Ohtani’s endorsement deal with MUFG goes back a ways, and the above video is from a year ago, long before there was any hint of the scandal to come. In light of the recent revelations, though, Ohtani doesn’t currently look like a model of financial responsibility. The condensed version of the scandal is that while sports gambling is legal in some parts of the U.S., it is not in California, the state in which Ohtani resides and plays. Moreover, it’s illegal, under U.S. federal (i.e. national) lay to pay gambling debts through wire transfer. The wire transfers to the bookie, though, were made from Ohtani’s account, with Ohtani’s name on the accompanying forms.

Initially, Mizuhara claimed that Ohtani himself had agreed to pay off his debts, and had personally processed the transfer using his computer. Ohtani’s PR and legal teams then denied that the baseball star was even aware of Mizuhara’s gambling debts, and that Ohtani was “the victim of a massive theft.” Mizuhara then retracted his claim that Ohtani had agreed to pay his debts or carried out the transaction, without offering any explanation as to how the transfer was made without Ohtani’s knowledge or consent.

Really, there are only three possible scenarios. In one, Ohtani gave Mizuhara access to use his bank account, including the ability to verify Ohtani’s consent for transfers of large sums of money, implying that Ohtani failed to limit access to his financial assets to trustworthy people. In another, Mizuhara was never given such access, but was able to bypass the security protocols for Ohtani’s account, implying that whichever institution is handling his money does a poor job of protecting it. And in the third, Ohtani actually did process the transfers himself, and even if didn’t know they were illegal, that’s a big mistake in terms of managing your money, and one that would have been facilitated by being able to make the transfer on his own, without having to speak with a bank employee first.

So regardless of what the facts turn out to be, at the moment Ohtani’s banking situation is far from aspirational. Making things even more awkward is that Ohtani also appears in ads specifically for MUFG Bank’s smartphone app bank transfer services. That seems to be hitting too close to home for MUFG, and those videos have since been removed from the bank’s YouTube channel, though screenshots still exist in places like here of Ohtani endorsing MUFG’s “smartphone app bank transfers” (アプリで銀行振り込み). If you look closely in the investment video above, though, you can still spot a “transfer” (振込) button when the app is opened.

It should be noted that someone of Ohtani’s wealth almost certainly has his money split up into an assortment of financial institutions, and there’s been no public disclosure of which bank the account used to pay the bookie is with. As such, it’s entirely possible that that MUFG Bank is entirely unconnected to the scandal, but right now “You can transfer your money they way Shohei Ohtani does!” isn’t really a selling point, so it’s understandable that MUGF wants to keep that part of their endorsement deal quiet for the time being.

Source: MUFG Bank via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso
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