Leader of world chess body steps down over alleged Syria links

Leader of world chess body steps down over alleged Syria links

Leader of world chess body steps down over alleged Syria links

(FILES) This June 14, 2011 file photo shows World Chess Federation president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov as he speaks during a press conference in Moscow. AFP Photo

The head of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, has temporarily transferred most of his powers to his deputy after being added to a U.S. sanctions list for alleged ties to the Syrian regime, the organization said on Dec. 6.

At a FIDE meeting in Athens, Ilyumzhinov “informed the presidential board that he will withdraw from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE until such time as (he) is removed from the (U.S.) Office of Foreign Assets Control sanction list,” FIDE executive director Nigel Freeman said in a statement.

“Mr. Ilyumzhinov’s decision... is to enable him to concentrate on clearing the situation with the U.S. Department of the Treasury,” he  said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week said “a former chess champion” was involved in oil trade between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Syrian regime, without naming Ilyumzhinov. 

Ilyumzhinov, a 53-year-old Russian politician, was first elected FIDE president in 1995, and was re-elected by a large majority in 2014 against chess legend Garry Kasparov, who opposes Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His stand-in is the federation’s vice president, Georgios Makropoulos, a Greek.

The U.S. Treasury Department accuses Ilyumzhinov of “materially assisting and acting for or on the behalf of” the Syrian government and central bank, as well as central bank governor Adib Mayaleh.

The sanctions forbid U.S. individuals or entities from doing any business with those on the blacklist, restricting their access to international financial networks crucial to doing business.

A wealthy Buddhist who has also served as head of Russia’s Republic of Kalmykia, Ilyumzhinov hit the headlines over his close ties to authoritarian leaders.

They included former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, with whom he played a media-friendly game of chess in Libya in June 2011 as NATO was bombing the country.

He has described the sanctions decision unveiled last month as a “provocation.”

He said he had frequently been to Syria and met top officials, including President Bashar al-Assad, but had “no economic interests” there, or in Iraq.