Morocco Chess Federation hit with corruption troubles

by Diana Mihajlova
12/9/2017 – The Royal Morocco Chess Federation has been in discord since members of its governing body raised the alarm over impropriety on the part of its leadership, including the disappearance of the equivalent of $200,000 US Dollars. DIANA MIHAJLOVA reports on a host of allegations which have beset the federation's president Mustapha Amazzal. Part one of a two-part chronicle. | Photo: Members of the Moroccan team at the chess Olympiad in Baku (from right to left): Khalid Becham, FA Amina Bamous, IA Akkour Abdel Fattah, Hind Bahji, Mehdi Ait, Hmidou, Ferdaous Idrissi, Adil Choukri, Firdaouss Myar Idrissi (seated), the Moroccan Women’s Champion | Mouhcine Bennadi's Facebook page

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An uphill battle

It comes as no surprise that people in power sometimes cannot resist abusing their position for personal benefit. Often, even when detected, the culprits operate with impunity amid comparatively powerless opposition. The sports world is rife with examples, and chess is no exception. In recognition of International Anti-Corruption Day we take a look at a story of a chess federation in turmoil, as its leadership is accused of exploiting the very players it is entrusted to represent.

Players bear the brunt of mismanagement

Mustapha Amazzal

The Moroccan Chess Federation has suffered from abysmal stagnation in its chess activities in recent years, according to many of its members who have shared a wide range of grievences both large and small. Some allegations have very visible ramifications — like the suppression of this year’s Moroccan National Championship — others are more pernicious. Among the serious charges are the expropriation of federation funds, players poached or replaced between competing chess clubs without consent or remuneration, suspensions on individual players and clubs without due process or cause, misappropriation of chess sets and clock grants by FIDE, fraudulent submission of arbiter certifications, failure to submit tournament ratings to FIDE, and general cronyism. The chief target of these allegations is the president of the FRME, Mustapha Amazzal (pictured at right).

(We refer to the Morrocan Chess Federation throughout using its French acronym — FRME — for Fédération Royale Marocaine des Échecs.)

A letter of complaint addressed to FIDE and signed by the Vice President of the FRME, Said Jdiyou, and the committee’s ten-member majority, alleges anomalies of various kinds including financial embezzlement committed by Amazzal. (The full letter can be read in English translation [PDF].)

A letter summarizing the president’s excesses and outlining administrative, financial and legal violations has also been sent to the Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports. Moroccan national media reporting has exposed the events taking place within the FRME.

Press clippings from 'Almassa' and 'Assabah'

Clippings from the dailies ‘Almassa’ and ‘Assabah’

To understand the scope of the present situation, one must look at recent history. In October, 2016, at the FRME Board’s meeting, the Treasurer, Abdelkader Takieddine, produced two transfers made by President Amazzal, from the Federation's bank account to his personal account, for which he offered no valid explanation to members of the committee. The misappropriated sum is more than USD $200,000.

Aside from financial impropriety, Amazzal is accused of irregularities in the way he conducts business, and exercising his authority in an arbitrary manner. He has acted unilaterally, according to his personal agenda, without consulting the Federation’s governing body, and subjected opponents who disagree with him to severe reprisal.

group of Moroccan players

A group photo of Moroccan chess players and representatives of the FMRE governing body immediately after the financial embezzlement has been made public | Photo: Mouhcine Bennadi's Facebook page

In two interviews for ‘Hibapress’, in August 2017, Jdiou and Takieddine detailed the financial irregularities committed by the FMRE president. It transpires that Amazzal is an officer for inspection at the the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the governmental organization with oversight responsibility over the FRME. The interviews were conducted in Arabic and subsequently subtitled in English.  

Abuse of power, and broken promises

IM El Adnani Mokhliss (Elo 2454) is one of the most active Moroccan chess players, a winner of many national tournaments, and also the reigning national champion — a title earned at the 2016 Championship.

El Adnani MokhlissThe championship did not take place this year primarily due to the federation’s remaining funds being blocked after the discovery of the unauthorized transfers. This has had a direct impact on the livelihoods of Morrocan players, who now refer to 2017 as 'une année blanche', meaning a lost, blank or wasted year.

Mokhliss has also played for the President Amazzal’s chess club, Raja-Casablanca, but received only half of his agreed fee. After winning the 2016 Arab Team Championship, an additional 15 percent was paid, but he was still not paid in full.

Mokhliss requested a transfer to another club, Al Chabab of Tétouan. Amazzal executed a transfer document for Mokhliss conditional upon the new club assuming the unpaid debt, which Mokhliss regarded as a form of blackmail.

Mokliss transfer document

He refused — the transfer document (right) clearly shows the abscence of Mokhliss’ signature — and now he can no longer play for Raja, or Al Chabab.

Since the October 2016 meeting, Amazzal has lost the support of a majority of the executive board members of the Federation, including the Secretary-General, Salhi Mokhtar, the Treasurer, Takieddine, and the Vice-Treasurer, Abdelkarim Mokhliss. The latter two have refused to sign authorizations for financial transactions of the Federation’s account, disrupting its normal operations. However, the general view among Amazzal's opponents is that such a mess suits the president's aims; he may seek to turn the paralysis to his advantage by discrediting his political opponents.

According to International Arbiter Zoheir Slami, a complaint against Amazzal has been filed before the Court of Appeal of Casablanca by the Moroccan Association for the Protection of the Public Money, headed by Mohammed El Ghaloussi. The prosecutor overseeing the case has referred the investigation to the National Brigade of the Judicial Police (BNJP), which tackles serious national crimes.

The winning Moroccan club 'Raja' at the Arab Club Championship in Marrakech, 2016 
(From left: FM Najib Draoui; GM Bassem Amin (Egypt) ; IM Tissir Mohamed ; Mr Amazzal; GM Hamdouchi Hicham ; IM El Adnani Mokhliss; Massioui Abdelmoula, 2nd vice- president FRME; GM Haddouch Amine (Algeria))

Amazzal was also behind the scandal surrounding the 2nd International Chess tournament King Mohammed VI, in Casablanca, 2015, when prominent international players were not paid the promised prize money. Eventually, after lobbying from various sides, more than a year later, winners received their awards.

The most pressing recent concern has been the decision of the Arab Chess Federation to grant the Arab Chess Olympiad to Morocco, a tournament originally scheduled for the end of November, in Agadir. After all, how could the chess federation effectuate such a large and important event while his dealings with the federation’s funds have been blocked?

Amazzal's opponents sent a warning letter to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, despite harboring doubts that it would have any effect. Amazzal’s personal close relationship with the Ministry as well as with the President of the Arab Chess Federation, Ibrahim Al Bannai, seemed to trump any practical concerns. However, a representative of Al Bannai visited the Ministry of Youth and Sports on November 17th, and the Arab Olympiad was subsequently postponed indefinitely.

Amazzal with Al Bannai

Amazzal (right) with Ibrahim Al Bannai | Photo: Med Nia's Facebook page

Seeking international allies in FIDE

IA Zoheir Slami, a member of the FMRE Governing Body, brought their plight to the attention of FIDE officials at the recent FIDE Congress, in Antalya, Turkey. FIDE’s Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey Borg, offered a sympathetic ear and promised to visit Morocco in the near future in order to alleviate problems. According to Slami, Borg attempted to meet with the Moroccan Ministry for Youth and Sports, but was unsuccessful and FIDE has not addressed the matter with sufficient urgency.

Slami and Mamedyarov

IA Zoheir Slami and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov at the Rabat Megamall Blitz Marathon in 2015 | Photo: Zoheir Slami on Facebook

This is not the first time Amazzal has been mired in scandal. In 2007 the FIDE Ethics Commission issued a judgement against the Royal Morrocan Chess Federation and Amazzal personally (PDF document), for involvement in an illegal attempt to obtain international arbiter titles by presenting falsified arbiter’s norms to FIDE. The sanction imposed a three year exclusion, starting from October 1st, 2007, of the Moroccan Chess Federation from participating in any FIDE events, including FIDE Congresses, and a two year suspension for Amazzal personally from the organisation of any FIDE events.

Needless to say, the primary victims of these sanctions were the Moroccan chess players. For the duration of the sanctions, the Ministry of Youth and Sports stepped in to create a temporary commission to handle the Federation’s affairs. However, chess life in the country suffered stagnation and disarray, and has never recovered from this five-year long turmoil. The three-year suspension inflicted by FIDE and two subsequent years of internal disagreements which ensued, ultimately and surprisingly lead to the reinstatement of Mr. Amazzal as FRME President, further fueling an air of impunity and speculation that Amazzal's employment within the Ministry of Youth and Sports has curried favor with its management.

A lamentable legacy

The FIDE Ethics Comission report (page 5) notes that "… many complaints were lodged against the FRME and his President, Mr. Mustapha Amazzal. Nevertheless, for this EC, the case n. 3/06 was originated just following the report presented by the FIDE Arbiter’s Council…"

The "many complaints" against Amazzal have not abated throughout his 20-year presidency, but according to his critics, Amazzal has used the threat of suspension as a tool of intimidation, while the only due process rests with a disciplinary commission composed of Amazzal’s allies.

The result has been an exodus of the best players, some leaving in response to sanctions, some of their own accord because life as a chess professional in Morocco had become unsustainable. The only grandmaster from the country, Hichem Hamdouchi, moved to France and switched to playing under the French flag. IM Abdelaziz Onkoud also settled in France where his main chess activity has been chess compositions and problems solving, which he practices on an international level with great success [We recently mentioned him in connection with prominant problem solver John Nunn -Ed.]. Several others found positions as trainers in other countries, mainly in the Persian Gulf region — IM Ali Sebbar in the UAE, IM Ismail Karim in Oman, and IM Mohamed Tissir in Bahrain. Hamdouchi too eventually moved to Qatar, where he currently lives and works. 

Mokhliss, Tisser, and Onkoud

(From left) Mokhliss El Adnani, Mohammad Tissir and Abdelaziz Onkoud in the pre-Amazzal era of discord, at the 1999 Arab Team Championship in Jordan | Mohammad Tissir's facebook page

Most of them accepted their lot as a blow dealt by the destiny and, today, would rather forget and not talk about what befell them personally, but they are keen to express their views on the general state of Moroccan chess and its likely future.

In the next part of our story, personal narratives from several players, arbiters, club presidents and other chess professionals, contextualise the sorry state of affairs within the Royal Moroccan Chess Federation.

Continue to Part 2...

A former university lecturer in Romance philology, she is currently a painter as well as a chess journalist, and reports regularly from the international tournament scene.


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