FIDE's bank account closed

by Macauley Peterson
2/14/2018 – Bad press for FIDE as Dr. Adrian M. Siegel, the organisation's treasurer, has informed all officials and members of the World Chess Federation via an open letter that the FIDE account has been closed by the Swiss UBS bank, due to the more than two year old sanctions of the US Treasury against FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. | Photo (of Dr. Siegel): GFHund (Sarah Hund) CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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Ilyumzhinov blamed for new financial burden

In 2015, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, due to his links with the Russian Financial Alliance Bank, said to have been involved in financial transactions with Syrian banks which have supported the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. As a result of the sanctions, Swiss UBS, which has held FIDE's account for many years, asked the World Chess Federation to clarify the matter. Now, they appear to have lost patience.

In a letter from FIDE Treasurer Dr. Adrian Siegel, dated on February 12th, and posted to the FIDE home page on Tuesday, it was revealed that the Federation's accounts are being closed "immediately", as a direct consequence of Ilymzhinov's continued presence on the sanction list.

Letter from FIDE Treasurer Siegel

Letter posted to on February 13th (click or tap to enlarge image)

The letter notes that over two years ago the Presidential Board unanimously took measures to mitigate the risk by transfering his duties and powers to Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos.

Kirsan IlymzhinovThe FIDE leadership wanted to give Ilymzhinov a chance to answer the charges, and he claimed to be pursuing efforts to clear his name. But the situation came to a head last April, when it briefly appeared that Ilyumzhinov had resigned as president because of these problems. Soon after, however, the supposed resignation was declared a misunderstanding. Since then Ilyumzinov has been President in name, while Makropoulos runs the show.

Ilyumzhinov, who has been in office since 1995, has indicated that he would like to lead FIDE's fortunes for yet another term, but he is facing an icy headwind. His one-time loyal supporters have now apparently almost closed ranks against him. 

The next presidential elections will be at the FIDE General Assembly during the 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi. While previous elections were accompanied by fierce fighting, this time no candidate has yet thrown his hat in the ring — with the exception of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

(Above right) Ilyumzhinov at the  recent Congress of the Russian Chess Federation, where he was ostensibly seeking support as a candidate in the RCF's presidential elections, but withdrew his name ahead of the vote | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili and Vladimir Barsky

Devastating global news headlines

The latest turn of events has (predictably) resulted today in headlines like this in The Telegraph:

"World chess body has Swiss bank accounts frozen after president accused of links to Isil oil deals"

The BBC quotes "Mr Ilymuzhinov's defence team" as saying that he was "not aware that Fide's bank accounts have been frozen by UBS", and that the letter is part of a "smear campaign related to a power struggle".

If calling attention to the UBS account's situation publically is part of a political move to discredit Ilymzhinov in the international press, it is working. The question is, does it help to persuade Ilyumzhinov to abandon his re-election bid, or strengthen his resolve?

Andre Schulz contributed to this story


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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ChrisCRS ChrisCRS 3/3/2018 10:06
He was seemingly not Impartial.
fons3 fons3 2/19/2018 10:29
@ basler88

Not sure what your rambling comment has to do with anything I said. Btw you forgot to mention Kim Jong-un.
basler88 basler88 2/19/2018 06:04
fon53 That's funny you mention "What does FIDE have to do with Syria or the middle east?", if I'm reading it correctly YOU started it on 2/16/18! Why don't you call the terrorists by name - Russia and Assad, as the so called "terrorists" and ISIS have no airplanes! I hope you don't think they using there hands to throwing the bombs, maybe you do as you believe in fake news and by the way, welcome to Trumps world!
BeachBum2 BeachBum2 2/19/2018 06:38
It is a hard choice. Chess (especially classical) is not popular enough to attract regular commercial sponsors. Maybe with the exception of world champion match. So it feels like more and more tournaments are held in places with dictatorial regimes (Russia, Emirates, Azerbaijan, Iran), where governments can use money (or "strongly suggest" local companies to pay) to promote themselves, to break "isolation". Well - I guess it is this or nothing. I would not take "bloody money" from Putin - but it is not my decision.

It is hard to say if somebody with charisma (Kasparov?) could maybe create some kind of "professional scene" - more "dynamic", with some surprises, "drama", strong personalities and rivalries etc. Having essentially "unbeatable" Calrsen and How Yifan makes it even harder. We need rivalries, but there are none...
calvinamari calvinamari 2/18/2018 03:27
Heavy interference -- Someone needs to reinforce his tin foil beanie.
fons3 fons3 2/17/2018 08:20
The sanctions target Ilyumzhinov as a private person but now FIDE is being punished.
This alone should tell you there are political machinations going on behind all this.

Who gave the US the idea to put Ilyumzhinov on the sanctions list? Maybe it was just random bad luck but the current FIDE administration is certainly making good use of it. They could have seen the current crisis coming a long time ago but took no preventive measures. It seems like they've been letting this escalate to finally kick Ilyumzhinov out once and for all. (Btw, wasn't Dr. Adrian Siegel president of the Swiss Chess Federation? Hmm...)

Will Makropoulos become the man? Will the US take over? Will Kasparov step in? (He's got connections in the US and has always been anti-Putin so he fits right in.) Something else entirely?

What the ultimate goal is I can only speculate but something's up, that's for sure.
fons3 fons3 2/17/2018 08:11
@ basler88

The poison gas attack has been proven to be done by terrorists affiliated with ISIS. It's called a false flag attack. ISIS BTW was created and sponsored by the US and its allies. The mainstream media has become a total sham and are used as propaganda outlets to push certain agendas. I don't expect you to believe any of this if all you've ever known is this fake-reality. It's like somebody telling you the earth is flat.

In any case: what does FIDE have to do with Syria or the middle east?

(PS: the earth is not flat, maybe I should've used a different example. ;))
HappyGrandPatzer HappyGrandPatzer 2/17/2018 03:10
Does AGON (commercial arm of FIDE) have a separate bank account to pay for the upcoming Candidates Tournament in 3 weeks?

How long will it take until Makropoulos et al will flip burgers at the local MacDonald's?
calvinamari calvinamari 2/16/2018 05:33
"It's only the US who makes Assad into a big bad villain"

I am going to presume that this is some type of Swiftian irony.

Back to the subject at hand: The elephant in the room is that this is a report of Seigel's characterization of why the bank closed the account. I can assure you that, when banks close accounts because of money laundering or sanctions violations, they do not tell the accountholder all (or even any) of the reasons why. It may be that, as Siegel claims, that the bank's took this action because of FIDE's association with the albatross of Ilyumzhinov. After all, Ilyumzhinov and his hand-picked cronies dominate the organization top to bottom. However, it may be equally plausible that the bank's investigation uncovered direct misconduct by FIDE itself.

In all events, after UBS's action, good luck to FIDE in getting any reputable international bank to have anything to do with the the organization -- at least not until the chess community somehow manages to replace ALL the current leadership.
basler88 basler88 2/16/2018 05:31
fon53 are you really watching and reading the news? You really think the cold war is over? Where do you live on what planet you’re on?? So, you think we should be OK that Assad poison his own people? Are you out of your mind?? It’s not only the US, it’s the rest of the world, except of course the Russians who think that’s OK to poison and kill you own people and whoever is against their fascistic regime. Of course, Ilyumzhinov is a criminal, he always talks that he can proof he is not, we’re still waiting and waiting for his proof that he is not!! Oh, by the way, with whom in Syria did you speak too? With the one who get the poison and the bombs every day or to the one that deliver the poison and the bombs? Go back and think very carefully before you answer this question.
fons3 fons3 2/16/2018 01:57
@ calvinamari

To be clear I'm not a fan of the current FIDE administration.
If Ilyumzhinov has done something criminal then let it be settled in court.

The article says: "due to his links with the Russian Financial Alliance Bank, said to have been involved in financial transactions with Syrian banks".

Further on the article makes it seem as if there is something Ilyumzhinov can do to "clear things up", but if there is a link then there is a link, there's nothing more to say about it.

It's only the US who makes this into a big deal and starts with the sanctions.

It's only the US who makes Assad into a big bad villain, but the people of Syria speak a different story. US and it's allies want to destroy Syria for military, political and economic reasons, it is well known to anybody who follows more than just the mainstream media propaganda.

If Ilyumzhinov has done something criminal then let it be settled in court.
Of course with the sanctions there are no courts, it's just whatever the US wants.

And again: why punish FIDE?
fons3 fons3 2/16/2018 01:54
@ basler88
Do you have any proof of your accusations?

The cold war is over.
calvinamari calvinamari 2/15/2018 11:53
That's nonsense. The EU also has strict economic sanctions against Syria not because anyone told them to do so. The bank must comply with both EU and US sanctions laws, logically enough, because it has the majority of its business relationships in those jurisdictions. Even if that were not the case, Switzerland, which is not part of the EU has independently imposed economic sanctions on Syria, generally mirroring the EU standards. It may well be that only the US has evidence naming Ilyumzhinov as a person engaged in a number of transactions designed to assist Syria in evading the international sanctions regimes, but so what? Other jurisdictions have not opined to the contrary. If the US information is true, doing business with Ilyumzhinov equally risks violating EU and Swiss law. Of course no one subject only to EU or Swiss law is legally compelled to believe the US government's information on Ilyumzhinov's Syria dealings. Instead of believing the US government, the bank could opt to believe Ilyumzhinov's weak denials and promises that he will be able to prove that this is all a big mistake. But the bank would do so at its peril. Only a fool would believe lyumzhinov. That's a universal statement, but it is is particularly true in this instance when he apparently has not put forth a shred of exculpatory evidence to the bank within a generous amount of time allotted to do so.
basler88 basler88 2/15/2018 02:55
Yes, they are taffy28!!! For years he misused the FIDE’s accounts for criminal and private us with the help of Putin!! I wrote so many times and ask the FIDE to remove this guy and we know always he couldn’t travel to the main events of the FIDE (World Championship in New York, etc., etc.) only where he was protected by the Russians and especially by Putin. He was for all these year on the US criminal list and he has arrest warrant out there for him and FIDE’s Board did nothing to remove him. Why?? Everybody knows he is a criminal and works for a criminal enterprise, so how could he stay on with FIDE so long? I’m not sorry for that event, that’s all the FIDE’s Board fault, why waiting so long for action, that wasn’t necessary to get in this mess, now do something to get out of it ASAP and for the next voting, please make some background checks and don’t get blinded again with a guy with money shows up for this position! It never was his money, it all came from the Kremlin! Yes, I know many are coming now with the complain that I accuse the Russians, I have nothing about the people of Russia, just the Kremlin and who is in there. Ilyumzhinov had never money, he is just used as pupped from the Kremlin, however, he enjoyed it like all they do to present them as a kind of “World men with money”. Get them out and don’t vote for another Russian otherwise we’ll have the same problem in a few years again. As I mention, make a clear background check for all the FIDE Board Members!!
Harry_Flashman Harry_Flashman 2/15/2018 11:57
Who is going to pay the prize fund for the incoming Candidates Tournament then ?
taffy28 taffy28 2/15/2018 11:42
I would like to know why the Swiss banks closed the FIDE accounts. They are NOT Mr Ilyumzhinov's accounts (or are they?). He's the one who has allegedly been dealing with Syria NOT FIDE. Has any FIDE funds been misappropriated by Ilyumzhinov in regards to Syria? I think it's time FIDE published the FULL accounts of the last 3 years.
fons3 fons3 2/15/2018 06:46
To be clear I'm not a fan of the current FIDE administration but...

- Where does the US get the right to tell the rest of the world what to do?
- Why is Switzerland taking orders from the US?
- Why punish FIDE which has nothing to do with Ilyumzhinov's shady past or business dealings. (At least in theory.)

Question: so what will be the concrete consequences of this bank account closing?
fons3 fons3 2/15/2018 06:35
How many sock puppets in this thread?

@ RayLopez
The cold war is over.

Rich people sponsoring chess is fine. Rich people running the show just because they are rich is NOT fine. FIDE should be a democracy, not a plutocracy. Let Ilyumzhinov be a case in point.

@ A Alekhine
The UN is a political tool to serve the military-industrial interests of the US, bankers & globalism. In any case the orgainisational structure of the UN is not suited to run an organization like FIDE.
RayLopez RayLopez 2/15/2018 03:46
Since FIDE' chief must make rain (i.e., raise prize money), my vote for a new head would go to Rex Sinquefield or one of his proxies, which would pull the Americans into the FIDE orbit and kick out the Russians. IMO the Russians are a declining power in chess anyway (just the way I see it). And there's no need to headquarter FIDE in Greece, rather, move it to the USA which is more transparent.
calvinamari calvinamari 2/15/2018 02:55
"Everybody likes him and respects him."

I personally do so, very much, and he would be way better than any of the FIDE old guard, who were not handpicked by Ilyumzhinov by accident but rather because of their willingness to aid and abet his manner of running FIDE. That said, in no way does everyone love Nigel. Even admirers like me must acknowledge that he is often unfettered by such inhibiting factors such as diplomacy, a skill which might come in handy from time to time as head of an international body. Suffice it to say that while some think Nigel and FIDE is a match made in heaven, others think it a match made in heaven by a retarded angel.
KOTLD KOTLD 2/15/2018 12:49
Can FIDE ever be repaired, or is it time to finally replace FIDE with another organisation, and if so, how do you stop the same problems from reoccurring ?
royce campbell royce campbell 2/14/2018 11:36
@Talhunted: Nigel Short would be an awesome choice.
@Nigel: (see above)
Talhaunted Talhaunted 2/14/2018 11:00
After decades of unmitigated disgrace with clowns like Illiuzimov and before him Campanoes, it is just about time to resurrect the good old FIDE times of Euwe and send some marching orders to real good candidates. In short one possibility is Nigel. In long, a good and natural candidate would be Nigel Short, who happens to live in Athens, where FIDE lives. He likes to travel. Everybody likes him and respects him. I suggest that if he has a spare hat, let him or urge him to throw it in the ring..
calvinamari calvinamari 2/14/2018 10:03
Not only has everyone been on notice of this for the past two years, but wasn't it also obvious for more than a decade that FIDE was in part a front for money laundering if not terrorist financing? The FIDE Treasurer, of all people, can hardly claim surprise. Ilyumzhinov is the causal factor here, to be sure. Running FIDE with him at the helm is like swimming the Channel with a concrete block tied to you left testicle. But the balance of the FIDE senior leadership is likely complicit or, if you can suspend your disbelief, at least spectacularly negligent. Hence, the precise correlation between Mr. Adrian Siegel's words of false virtue and actorial posturing, on the one hand, and the facts, insofar as they can be determined, on the other hand, is such as to cause epistemological problems, of sufficient magnitude as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the English language a heavier burden than they can reasonably be expected to bear. Everyone in the senior leadership is to blame.
Bobbyfozz Bobbyfozz 2/14/2018 09:54
Chessplayers want to play chess more than they are willing to give up a weekend, learn how to become a TD and run events. Often it seems that if they aren't good enough to be a top player they will take on other duties to fatten their wallets. They often want to socialize with the top players and being "in charge" lights up their lives. I've seen them abscond with funds and unfortunately misrepresent a club's best interests. In the older days we required our club officers, especially treasurers, to be bonded! "Too much trouble" people would say and stuff like this would happen. Yes, there have been honest and trustworthy servants but too often it's considered too much trouble. Where else can one get jobs like this without a worthy background check? And for crying out loud, pay those who do good work. Chessplayers often just don't want to be bothered, all they want it to just play chess and let someone else do the "grunt work." Why should some top officials at FIDE (or other organizations such as FIFA) be any different?
rindholt rindholt 2/14/2018 07:53
I call upon aliens to abduct this clown for good...
Jarman Jarman 2/14/2018 07:48
Over the years I convinced myself that FIDE missed a great chance when Karpov was defeated as a presidential contender. At the very least he would have put an end to all the craziness we've got accustomed to since 1995.
@A Alekhine: Excellent post.
A Alekhine A Alekhine 2/14/2018 07:09
Who is surprised by this new development?

Let me answer: No one.

The chess world has been dominated by rich individuals of dubious background for so long, it is hard for anyone today to remember it was not always so.

But the non-chess world has its standards of behavior, and now we see how they can clash with FIDE's standards.

I am old enough to remember when Dr. Max Euwe, former World Chess Champion from The Netherlands, was President of FIDE. He was a distinguished individual with major accomplishments in chess as a player and author, and respected by everyone.

Dr. Euwe was succeeded as President of FIDE by the Icelandic Grandmaster Fridrik Olafsson. Since Olafsson stepped down in 1982, we have had highly controversial FIDE Presidents from minor chessplaying nations. Funding for major events has often come from unsavory sources. Previously unthinkable behavior has become accepted and normal.

(As a U.S. citizen, I am now seeing "previously unthinkable behavior" becoming accepted in our national political life.)

What is the solution to the problems of world chess governance?

Far be it from me to offer a comprehensive solution, but perhaps we should look to the United Nations governance model. The UN has a Security Council of major nations (with a rotating membership for smaller nations). The UN represents no one's ideal of governance, but perhaps establishing a FIDE "Leadership Council" of major chess-playing nations would be one concrete step toward improving governance of world chess.