Ex-star of sumo seen with mobster

MATSUYAMA, Ehime Pref. (Kyodo) Sumo stablemaster and former grand champion Takanohana met with a yakuza member in Ehime Prefecture in early June, prefectural police sources said Friday, revealing what could be another example of ties between the mob and the ancient sport.

The sources said Takanohana, also a member of the Japan Sumo Association board, at the time was on a visit to the prefecture to recruit new apprentices.

Takanohana, who ranks fifth on the all-time list with 22 tournament victories, had dinner with around 15 people, mostly parents of local junior high school students, during his trip. The police sources said a member of an underworld group was among those who watched practice sumo sessions or among the people who had dinner with Takanohana.

Takanohana denied having ties to any gangsters.

“I don’t have any personal relationship with any organized crime members, and I’ve never met any,” the 37-year-old said at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, where the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament is being held amid a scandal over illegal gambling involving sumo figures and mobsters.

“I was with parents of those kids and none of them appeared to be” a gangster, said Takanohana, who became a sumo elder after ending his wrestling career in 2003 while in the highest rank of yokozuna.

Police have arrested a former wrestler and searched several sumo stables and the home of a former ozeki — one rank below yokozuna — to look for evidence of alleged widespread illegal betting on professional baseball games among former and active wrestlers arranged by a bookie linked to the mob.

In late May, the JSA, the governing body of the sport, announced punishments for two sumo stablemasters who were found to have given senior mobsters tickets to past tournaments. Ozeki Kotomitsuki and a stablemaster have been expelled in connection with the gambling, and an ex-ozeki has been arrested.

In a related development Friday, the JSA’s special investigative panel said the latest report in the Shukan Shincho weekly magazine on former ozeki Chiyotaikai’s involvement in illegal gambling lacks credibility.

The weekly said in its latest edition that Chiyotaikai, while active, gambled last summer on pro baseball games and was seen at an Internet-linked “casino” four years ago.