On the heels of the glorious Olympics held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil the world chess community prepares to assemble in Baku, Azerbaijan for the 42nd Chess Olympiad beginning next week on September 1st. A record number of participants will be representing their countries and holding their flags aloft. Thus far 176 nations are scheduled to partake in the games to compete for medals and also to conduct the business of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) in the General Assembly and Congresses. However all is not well in FIDE and Jamaican Chess Federation President Ian Wilkinson is preparing to submit a proposal to the General Assembly stemming from U.S. sanctions levied against President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
Ian Wilkinson QC
The last Olympiad in Tromso, Norway saw a hotly-contested Presidential FIDE election with Ilyumzhinov pitting his 18-year record against the former World Champion of Garry Kasparov. Ilyumzhinov won the contest in convincing fashion in a campaign marred by mutual accusations of bribery, conflicts of interests and vote-tampering. Ultimately, Kasparov and Ignatius Leong were sanctioned by FIDE for breaching a code of ethics for conduct exhibited during the campaign. Both were suspended from FIDE activities for two years.
In a strange twist of events, the U.S. Department of Treasury levied sanctions against Ilyumzhinov for allegedly facilitating transactions with the government of Syria led by Bashar al-Assad. The press release (released on November 25, 2015) read in part:
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. Ilyumzhinov is a wealthy Russian businessman, former president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, and long-time World Chess Federation president. He is linked to financial transactions involving Khuri-associated companies [Mudalal Khuri has had a long association with the Assad regime and represents regime business and financial interests in Russia] as early as 1997 and owns or controls the Russian Financial Alliance Bank, along with Khuri. An advisor to Ilyumzhinov, then-President of Kalmykia, was convicted in Russia in 1999 for the murder of an opposition journalist who reportedly was investigating an offshore business registration mechanism in Kalmykia tied to Ilyumzhinov. Russian authorities subsequently closed the offshore business registration mechanism after concluding that it was being used for illegal purposes. (full statement)
This statement was released amidst FIDE’s bid for a contract to host the World Chess Championship in New York. It complicated matters since the sanctions would mean that Ilyumzhinov’s status could affect the negotiations. FIDE briskly responded to the news with the following statement:
Athens, 6 December 2015
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. Makropoulos has long been considered the most influential executive in Ilyumzhinov’s inner circle.
FIDE Executive Director (full statement)
Despite Ilyumzhinov stating that there were no transactions made in Syria and no illicit activities, he vacated his seat as President and ceded administrative control of FIDE affairs over to Georgios Makropoulos. Thus, Ilyumzhinov withdrew from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE until such time as he is removed from the OFAC list, but he remains in control of FIDE. Many have pointed to Kasparov as the instigator of this incident (by Vladimir Kramnik no less), but that would be making a gross assumption about his influence in U.S. political affairs. Kasparov called Kramnik’s assertion “bizarre” and denied any role in the sanctions.
Like anyone who cares about chess, I was saddened when the United States Treasury Department sanctioned Ilyumzhinov in Nov 2015 for aiding and acting for the brutal Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. It was another blow to the reputation of the game I have devoted my life to, one of many Ilyumzhinov has inflicted (full story).
On the eve of the Olympiad, Jamaica’s Ian Wilkinson, a dynamic and charismatic attorney who stood with Kasparov in his failed bid for FIDE President, has filed a motion demanding that the general body officially remove Ilyumzhinov from the seat of President. Wilkinson will make an appeal for the motion to be discussed before the General Assembly.
His proposal is presented as such:
1. President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (hereafter called “the FIDE President”) has not kept a number of the promises he made during the last World Chess Federation (“FIDE”) Presidential campaign, including promises made on the 11th August, 2014, the day of the Presidential election at the Congress or General Assembly of FIDE in Tromso, Norway to provide specific sums for funding Chess activities.
2. Since in or about late 2015, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has imposed sanctions on the FIDE President for, among other things, allegedly “materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria and the Central Bank of Syria”.
3. By virtue of the said sanctions by OFAC, any assets owned by the FIDE President in the United States of America are frozen and citizens of the United States of America are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the FIDE President.
4.The citizens of the United States of America include members of the United States Chess Federation, including any governing administration and players, with whom FIDE, in particular the FIDE President, is obligated to deal by virtue of his office as president of FIDE.
5. Based, among other things, on the said sanctions by OFAC against the FIDE President, FIDE’s operations, including its bank accounts, have been adversely affected or are likely to be adversely affected or subject to restrictions by OFAC.
6. The operations of the Confederation of Chess for the Americas (“FIDE America”) to which Jamaica belongs have also been adversely affected, or are likely to be affected, as a direct result of the sanctions by OFAC against the FIDE President.
7. In or about December, 2015 the FIDE President purportedly gave up his powers as President pending the resolution of the OFAC sanctions against him but, nevertheless, since then he has appeared at a number of events in his official capacity as President of FIDE.
8. In or about April, 2015 the FIDE President was elected as the Associate Members’ Council member on the Sport Accord Council but in or about late 2015 and 2016 the FIDE President was removed from the Sport Accord Council as the representative of the Associate Members and duly replaced.
9. FIDE’s reputation (and by extension the reputation of the sport of Chess) has suffered significantly due to the OFAC sanctions against the FIDE President with serious consequences, including loss of potential income, sponsorship opportunities and other forms of support for FIDE.
10.The said sanctions by OFAC have prevented the FIDE President from carrying out his duties as President of FIDE effectively. Further, while the said sanctions are in place they will continue to prevent the FIDE President from being effective or from discharging his responsibilities properly or at all.
11. The said OFAC sanctions against the FIDE President have devalued and/or weakened significantly the office of President of FIDE and brought disrepute and/or public scandal to the said office.
BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED
A. THAT the delegates or members of FIDE gathered at the Congress/General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan in September, 2016 call on the FIDE President to resign immediately as President of FIDE.
B. THAT if the FIDE President fails, neglects or refuses to resign as President of FIDE that the delegates or members of FIDE gathered at the Congress/General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan in September, 2016 vote to remove the FIDE President as President of FIDE.
C. THAT the delegates or members of FIDE gathered at the Congress/General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan in September, 2016, acting pursuant to the relevant FIDE statutes and/or regulations, authorize the Presidential Board, or any relevant official or body, to take the necessary steps to ensure that a new President of FIDE is elected as quickly as possible.
Dated the 15th day of July, 2016
Ian G. Wilkinson QC
President (and Delegate)
Jamaica Chess Federation
Wilkinson told The Chess Drum that he seeks abdication of Ilyumzhinov’s position, confirmation of Makropoulos as the Acting President for a specified time (determined by the body) and the possibility of arranging new elections prior to the end of the Ilyumzhinov’s term. It is Wilkinson’s contention that the current arrangement is causing irreparable damage to FIDE’s brand image. He also cited instances where chess officials attempting to raise funds for chess activities were rebuffed by sponsors due to the news of Ilyumzhinov’s sanctions.
Wilkinson emphatically contends that he is not a part of a conspiracy connected to Kasparov despite the fact that both share objection to the FIDE cabal. In fact, some of the supporters for his motion are not necessarily “pro-Kasparov” and have lent support to the idea of a FIDE shakeup two years after the election.
Wilkinson also excoriates FIDE’s inaction promoting chess in developing countries. For example, the money Ilyumzhinov pledged on the floor of the FIDE Congress has not materialized. In a more personal example to Wilkinson, funding for the UMADA Cup (held 2010 in Trinidad & Tobago and 2011 in Barbados) has dried up. This was a tournament launched during Ilyumzhinov’s campaign against Anatoly Karpov when he pledged an investment in the Caribbean.
With a record attendance in a non-election year, the 2016 General Assembly will have a clear focus on the business of FIDE and not be distracted with campaign politics. The bitter campaign of 2014 has had a lingering negative impact, particularly on fragile developing federations. Some federations have been fractured and wounds slow to heal in others. Be that as it may, Wilkinson’s proposal will not debate the rationale of the sanctions, but only to address the sanctions’ impact on FIDE as a body and chess as a sport.
“MOTION TO REMOVE FIDE PRESIDENT“ (PDF)