TOTTORI – Police are set to refer sumo grand champion Harumafuji to prosecutors by the end of the year on suspicion of assaulting lower-ranked wrestler Takanoiwa in a drunken brawl, investigative sources said Tuesday.
Under questioning late last week, the 33-year-old Mongolian yokozuna admitted to striking 27-year-old Takanoiwa with his palms, his fists and a karaoke-machine remote control, according to the sources.
Takanoiwa is believed to have suffered head injuries after being struck with an object, but Harumafuji has denied allegations that he hit the fellow Mongolian with a beer bottle in the late-October incident at a restaurant-bar in the city of Tottori, the sources said.
The police have determined that they can continue the investigation without arresting Harumafuji as he isn’t considered a flight risk or thought likely to destroy evidence, the sources said.
The police are carefully looking into how Harumafuji injured Takanoiwa but it remains unclear how accurately Takanoiwa can recall the incident, as the No. 8 ranked maegashira told police he kept his eyes closed as he was being hit.
According to other sources, Harumafuji became angry as Takanoiwa was using his smartphone while being scolded for his behavior by yokozuna Hakuho at the restaurant-bar.
Yokozuna Kakuryu and sekiwake Terunofuji — both from Mongolia — and some Japanese wrestlers were also present during the incident, the sources said.
The police are soon expected to question others in attendance including Kakuryu and Hakuho. Hakuho has said that Harumafuji did not strike Takanoiwa with a beer bottle.
The controversy has deepened as conflicting accounts of the alleged attack emerged — including the possibility that a liquor bottle, not a beer bottle, was used in the attack, according to investigative sources.
Further complicating the situation is Takanoiwa’s stablemaster Takanohana, whose actions leading up to the investigation have drawn criticism. Takanohana filed a police report about the incident late last month but only informed the Japan Sumo Association much later.
Yasuko Ikenobo, chairwoman of the JSA executive council and former vice education minister, took a swipe at Takanohana’s failure to immediately report the incident to the board of directors. Ikenobo, whose council convened a meeting on Monday, told reporters that many attendees were disappointed that the scandal broke during the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament. Takanohana had an “obligation to report” the incident to the JSA, according to Ikenobo.
Takanohana has remained mum about the incident, scarcely responding to the reporters following his every move.
Meanwhile, news that Harumafuji was expected to be referred to prosecutors for the assault charge has disappointed sumo fans.
“Sumo was finally regaining popularity, so it’s sad that it has been taken up by the media almost daily in such a way,” said Miyu Suzuki, 26, who attended the ongoing Kyushu tournament from Osaka.
Takanoiwa missed the tournament after being diagnosed with head injuries including a suspected skull fracture and a cerebrospinal fluid leak. Harumafuji withdrew from the tournament on the third day after the media reported the scandal.
The JSA said its crisis management panel will investigate the case and hand down a judgment or punishment sometime after the tournament ends on Sunday.