Police arrested three former sumo wrestlers Wednesday and another person on suspicion of organizing illegal gambling on baseball games.
The four held by the Metropolitan Police Department are former second-tier juryo division wrestler Sadahide Furu-ichi, 34, and former third-tier makushita division wrestlers Tetsuya Yabushita, 29, and Shunsaku Yamamoto, 35, all from the Onomatsu stable, as well as Furuichi’s mother, Yoneko, 63.
Yabushita and Yamamoto are suspected of collecting a total of ¥1 million from having six people bet on professional baseball games in April and May 2009.
Furuichi and his mother are also alleged to have had three people bet ¥200,000 each on baseball games last May.
This is the first time police have pursued criminal charges over the act of gambling itself, after making arrests earlier on extortion charges.
Last summer, police arrested former wrestler Mitsutomo Furuichi, 38, and others, including people with ties to the top underworld syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, for allegedly trying to extort hush money from former ozeki Kotomitsuki in connection with the gambling.
In the sumo world, ozeki is the second-highest rank after yokozuna, or grand champion.
Sadahide, a younger brother of Mitsutomo Furuichi, was booted out of the Japan Sumo Association for his alleged involvement in gambling on baseball games.
Yamamoto, reportedly a victim in the extortion case, has admitted in court that he got Kotomitsuki and others to engage in gambling.
Yabushita received an official reprimand from the sumo association, the lightest possible punishment, when he was found to have been involved in gambling. He retired after missing the entire tournament in September.
The Tokyo police have judged that the four were effectively managing a widespread gambling scheme among sumo wrestlers, backed by funds from the mob. They are investigating connections between the four and people linked with organized crime groups.
Police raided the homes of Yoneko in Osaka Prefecture, Yabushita in Ishikawa Prefecture and Furuichi in the city of Chiba on Wednesday.
“It’s a shame that they were arrested,” sumo association chief Hanaregoma said. “We took our own steps against them already. I don’t want to comment any further.”
The gambling scandal broke last May after the Shukan Shincho magazine reported that then-ozeki Kotomitsuki had been gambling on baseball games and had been intimidated by gangsters.
Two month later, the sumo association fired Kotomitsuki and stablemaster Otake for their involvement.
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