- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

Iceland yesterday announced it has granted a residency permit to former world chess champion Bobby Fischer, who has been detained in Japan and is fighting extradition to face criminal charges in the United States.

The 61-year-old Mr. Fischer faces up to a decade in jail on charges he violated U.S. sanctions by playing a match in 1992 in the former Yugoslavia. He has been held in Japan since July for traveling on a passport that U.S. officials had revoked late last year.

Icelandic chess officials have lobbied their government on Mr. Fischer’s behalf, recalling the famous 1972 match in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, in which the American took the world chess crown from Soviet champion Boris Spassky.

“We bent the rules to invite Fischer because he is connected to the history of Iceland in a unique way because of the match in 1972,” Illugi Gunnarsson, an aide to Iceland Foreign Minister David Oddsson, told the Reuters news agency yesterday.

Attorneys for Mr. Fischer say he has applied for a German passport based on the fact that his father was born in Germany.

“We’re in a happy mood,” said John Bosnitch, a U.S. lawyer and head of the Tokyo-based Committee to Free Bobby Fischer. “This hard work has paid off.”

State Department spokesman Steve Pike said U.S. authorities have seen the reports from Iceland, but said he was constrained from commenting because Mr. Fischer has not waived his privacy rights under U.S. law.

As a general rule, he said, “the U.S. government does not prohibit citizens from seeking permanent residency status in other countries.”

Some Fischer supporters have worried that a move to Iceland would not protect the chess master. Mr. Pike noted that Iceland and the United States have had an extradition treaty in place since 1906, but he declined to speculate on how the treaty might apply in Mr. Fischer’s case.

Georg Larusson, Iceland’s immigration chief, told the Morgunbladid newspaper that Iceland’s government “would have an obligation to deport [Mr. Fischer] if the U.S. government requests it.”

The Chicago-born Mr. Fischer was hailed as one of the greatest chess players of all time after his 1972 victory. But he withdrew almost totally from the game after the match, and alienated even his closest supporters with his erratic behavior, anti-Semitic comments and bitter anti-American diatribe.

In one radio interview, he praised the September 11 attacks in the United States. He has divided his time since the 1992 Yugoslavia match between Eastern Europe, the Philippines and Japan while avoiding the U.S. charges.

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