Fide president still hanging on despite being on US sanctions list

DECEMBER 10 — For a chess world desperate for change, it arrived rather unexpectedly when FIDE (World Chess Federation) president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov woke up to find himself in the latest US Treasury Department Sanctions list.

These sanctions dated November 25, 2015 stated: “As a result of today’s action, all assets of those designated that are in the United States or that are in the control of US persons are frozen, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.” and “Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was designated today for materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria, Central Bank of Syria, Adib Mayaleh, and Batoul Rida”.

Both Ilyumzhinov’s reaction and that of those who oppose or are outraged by him were typical.

The FIDE president, who enjoys unprecedented and almost cult-like coverage on the organisation’s website and celebrates his 20th year at the helm, was dismissive, calling it a provocation, claiming he was about to visit the USA to discuss bids from several would-be sponsors there of the World Championship Match, and promising he would be now be visiting the US Treasury Department to clear his name.

Perhaps this article by Malcolm Pein in The Telegraph (link) best represents the general disbelief at the alternative reality that so characterises Ilyumzhinov’s statements.

All this bravado was quickly exposed as the trip to the USA “was postponed” and to the surprise of many, escalated within FIDE to the point “a routine” Presidential Board Meeting was called in some haste and the result was a terse statement posted on the organisation’s website which reads as follows:
“Following the announcement by the US Department of the Treasury that the US levied sanctions against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Russian citizen and FIDE President, Mr Ilyumzhinov has informed the Presidential Board that he will withdraw from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE until such time as Mr Ilyumzhinov is removed from the Office of Foreign Assets Control sanction list. 

“Mr Ilyumzhinov advised that he has initiated legal procedures in the US aiming to request additional information and reverse restrictive measures put by the US Department of the Treasury. During the next Presidential Board meeting, Mr. Ilyumzhinov will update the Board as to the progress of the legal procedures. 

“Mr Ilyumzhinov’s decision to withdraw from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE is to enable him to concentrate on clearing the situation with the US Department of the Treasury. 

“Until further notice, under section A.9.5 of the FIDE Statutes, if the President: duly authorises, then he can be represented by the Deputy President who shall exercise the powers of the President. The Deputy President can thus represent FIDE officially and can solely sign for FIDE. Therefore Mr Makropoulos will now be exercising these powers and representing FIDE officially.”

The question I immediately had was does this mean he has neither resigned or even temporarily stepped down or been suspended and it seems even more so when Ilyumzhinov gave his own take of what it meant: 

“I am still FIDE President. However, at my request the Presidential Board has restricted my authority concerning financial operations by FIDE in the United States of America.”

While some have been quick to say he is effectively on leave to fight the sanctions (or rather to salvage his business affairs) and it is clear that he is in some trouble and there is a crisis, he is still FIDE president.

As I have already said in my post FIDE Election analysis on September 3, 2014, it is Russia’s FIDE and so whether or not Ilyumzhinov endures simply depends on his continued usefulness to his masters. 

Given the sad state of what FIDE is today as an organisation and as to how compromised its membership is, the dependency on Russia and its influence of the despots that it has running ex-Soviet republics is complete. With Europe struggling to continue to even fund its traditional events and the USA not yet a factor, the only other source of funds are the the oil-rich Arab states.

 It is just all too easy to see no real difference in a post-Ilyumzhinov chess world.  

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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