- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The chess world’s leading international body finds itself backed into a corner over its long ties to a shadowy Russian politician and oligarch.

The Lausanne, Switzerland-based World Chess Federation, known by its French acronym FIDE, revealed this week its bank accounts have been shut down owing to U.S. government sanctions placed upon its president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, for allegedly supporting the government of Syria.

The Obama administration originally imposed the sanctions on Mr. Ilyumzhinov, who was president of the Russian Federation’s Republic of Kalmykia from 1993 to 2010 and president of FIDE since 1995. The 55-year-old Mr. Ilyumzhinovhas long used his substantial personal fortune to help underwrite major tournaments and chess programs.

After the sanctions were first imposed, Mr. Ilyumzhinov repeatedly told the chess organization he was working to remove himself from the sanctions list, FIDE officials said. He has repeatedly denied the U.S. charges. 

In a letter to the FIDE board and member federations this week, FIDE Treasurer Adrian M. Siegel revealed that Swiss banking giant UBS was no longer willing to handle the federation’s business and was immediately closing the account.

UBS said it does not discuss individual accounts, but follows all applicable financial laws.

The move has left the chess world body scrambling to find a new banker and pay its bills, according to Mr. Siegel.

Mr. Ilyumzhinov’s problems severely damage FIDE’s business activities and we have to look for a new bank collection,” the treasurer wrote. “In the process of this change we anticipate some problems, however, we will do our best that payments will not be delayed.”

FIDE is one of the world’s most widespread sporting organizations, with 185 member-nations. It sets the official rules of play and oversees the world champion cycle and the biennial chess “Olympiad.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for helping the Syrian regime buy oil from Islamic State. The 2015 Treasury Department order accused Mr. Ilyumzhinov of materially assisting the Syrian government but did not say he served as a middleman in any oil deals. The Times regrets the error.

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