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Sumo scandal deepens as conflicting accounts of alleged assault emerge

Kyodo

The assault scandal involving yokozuna Harumafuji continues to deepen as conflicting accounts emerge of his alleged attack on compatriot and fellow wrestler Takanoiwa during a drunken brawl late last month.

The controversy shows no signs of abating soon as investigative authorities try to shed more light on the incident, especially in regard to whether Harumafuji really struck the 27-year-old Mongolian on the head with a beer bottle at a bar sometime overnight on Oct. 25 in the city of Tottori during a regional tour.

Sources familiar with the matter said the 33-year-old yokozuna was questioned Sunday by the Japan Sumo Association’s crisis management team, two days after being questioned by the police and admitting to injuring Takanoiwa.

During voluntary police questioning, Harumafuji said he struck the eighth-ranked maegashira several times with his bare hands, rather than a beer bottle as alleged, investigative sources said.

While the Harumafuji incident simply appears to be a case of two men brawling in a restaurant, it is more complex than that, investigators said.

“Since the wrestlers are Mongolian, they may be covering up for the yokozuna. The more conflicting the testimonies of those concerned get, the more thoroughly we must verify the facts,” one investigator said.

According to reports, Harumafuji hit Takanoiwa with a beer bottle for looking at his smartphone while being scolded for his behavior.

The younger wrestler then missed the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, which began on Nov. 12, after being diagnosed with injuries including a suspected skull fracture and a cerebrospinal fluid leak. Harumafuji withdrew as well, citing injuries, and apologized for all the fuss caused by the scandal.

Police are sifting through the conflicting accounts to determine what really happened.

Yokozuna Hakuho, who attended the outing with the other wrestlers, denied Harumafuji struck Takanoiwa with a beer bottle.

Another sumo wrestler said he heard that Harumafuji threatened Takanoiwa with an ice pick, but a stablemaster reportedly said Takanoiwa was the one wielding the ice pick. An ash tray, a microphone and a karaoke remote control are also items that might have been used as weapons during the alleged assault.

Harumafuji’s stablemaster is Isegahama.

The incident only recently came to light when Takanohana, Takanoiwa’s stablemaster, pressed charges with the Tottori Prefectural Police on Oct. 29.

Now attention is focusing on the nature of Takanohana’s actions leading up to the investigation.

Last week, when questioned by the JSA, Takanohana hinted about taking the case to court, sources close to the association said, raising the specter of a drawn-out legal battle. Some see Takanohana’s actions as a veiled threat to the venerable sumo association.

When the JSA asked Takanohana about the alleged assault before it became public, he said he wasn’t sure what happened. He also informed the JSA about the filing of a police report only on Nov. 14.

JSA officials say Takanohana deliberately left the association in the dark.

“Takanohana is fighting the current (JSA) system, not Harumafuji,” a stablemaster in his 50s said.

The latest scandal to taint the traditional sport comes at a time when it is trying to make a comeback from cases of match-fixing, violence and bullying.