Playing the Al Capone Gambit against Fischer

3/15/2005 – It's a strategy that worked well on leading mob figures: if you can't get them, let the IRS do the job. Former world champions Fischer was initially detained in Japan because of invalid travel document, then we were told it was for breaking sanctions in 1992. Now it looks like the US government will use tax evasion and money laundering to bring him down. Reports and video.

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Originally Bobby Fischer was arrested almost eight months ago for presenting an invalid passport at Tokyo's Narita Airport when trying to leave the country for the Philippines. Since then he has been held in the detention facilities of the airport and at the East Japan Immigration Bureau Detention Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture.

After a while officials said that Fischer was wanted in his homeland for playing chess in Yugoslavia in 1992, in violation of an executive order forbidding Americans from undertaking any commercial activities in the Balkan state, which at the time was under international sanctions.

Now it looks like the Japanese government is holding Fisher at the request of the US government until early April, when a grand jury will convene in the United States to consider laying tax evasion and money laundering charges on Fischer. If that is the case then the former world champion, although detained on other grounds, may be extradited on these charges and will almost certainly face heavy fines and a five to ten-year jail sentence in the US. Fischer hasn't filed tax returns since 1976. According to CNN Fischer’s case will take place on April 5 at the Robert N.C. Nix Sr. Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia.

Press reports

  • Mainichi Daily News reported last week that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is about to begin legal action against Fischer. The IRS probe against Fischer is being kept under such close wraps, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo were not aware of it. "I haven't heard of that," U.S. Embassy Press Attaché Michael Boyle said Friday, adding that even had he known about the investigation he would not have been able to comment on it.

  • Asia Pacific News reported in similar vein: Bobby Fischer may be extradited to the United States to face tax evasion charges in his homeland. The maverick genius faces 10 years in prison in the United States for playing chess in Yugoslavia in 1992 in violation of sanctions imposed over the Balkan wars. Washington, however, cannot have Fischer extradited on this charge as it is not recognized as a crime in Japan. But the US government is now moving to prosecute him for tax evasion, the Mainichi Shimbun said, quoting an unnamed official from the US Bankruptcy Court clerk's office at Robert N.C. Nix Sr. Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia. If he was indicted, the chess legend could be extradited from Japan to the United States in line with the extradition treaty between the two countries, the Japanese daily said. The US Internal Revenue Service plans to prosecute him over five tax evasion charges, the daily said, adding that the IRS was likely to secure a grand jury indictment on Fischer, which would allow it to bring charges against him. The grand jury is set to open on April 5.

  • AZ Central writes: A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., is investigating possible money-laundering charges involving former chess champion Bobby Fischer, who is already wanted for violating U.S. economic sanctions, one of his lawyers said. Federal prosecutors issued a subpoena last week to a second lawyer, Joseph Choate Jr., who once represented Fischer, ordering him to appear March 17 before the grand jury to discuss a "possible violation" of money-laundering statutes. Fischer was reported to have received $3.5 million from the event. He boasted at the time that he didn't intend to pay any income tax on the money. Vattuone, who has been working to secure Fischer's release from a Japanese detention center, said he believes U.S. prosecutors are now exploring money laundering and tax charges in an attempt to eventually extradite Fischer from Iceland or Japan.

  • The New York Times also mentions the new charge: A federal grand jury in Washington is investigating accusations of money laundering involving the former world chess champion Bobby Fischer, who is wanted for violating American economic sanctions, one of Mr. Fischer's lawyers said. "This is a pure tactical and propaganda ploy," the lawyer, Richard J. Vattuone, said on Tuesday.

  • John Henderson of The Scotsman wrote us as follows: Basically tax evasion of celebs is a big thing in the US – and usually a guaranteed slam dunk for the IRS when it comes to prosecuting. Remember Al Capone? They couldn't get Al on any other charges so just switched (successfully) to tax evasion. Another factor was last year's Patriot Act by George W. This gave the US authorities access for the first time to Swiss Bank account details – Fischer's assets and transactions would be seen by the US authorities for the first time since 1972 when he switched to a Swiss Bank account. They were never going to get him on the breaking of the US sanctions for playing Spassky in 1992 – but tax evasion was a sure thing. It also plays better on the media. It helped that he was caught in Japan, one of the few countries the US has a bilateral treaty on tax offenders where there would be an automatic deportation to face the music. The authorities in the US were never going to get Fischer on simply playing a harmless chess match against Spassky in Yugoslavia – it wasn't as if the two were selling arms there or inciting more bloodshed? How can you justify one guy being prosecuted and other (Spassky) being ignored? You can't sell this in a prosecution case – it's too absurd and complicated for a jury to comprehend.

The Al Capone Gambit

Getting Fischer on tax evasion charges would be reminiscent of the end of one of history's most notorious gangster bosses. In 1931 Al Capone (picture), after perpetrating a number of extremely violent crimes but successfully evading the Prohibition Buro and the US Treasury department (and most notably special agent Eliot Ness) was brought down on tax evasion charges.

Initially, Capone pleaded guilty to the charges, hoping to plea bargain. But the judge refused his lawyer's offers and Capone was found guilty on five of twenty three counts and sentenced to ten years in a federal prison. He was fined $50,000, charged $7692 for court costs, and $215,000 in back taxes for tax evasion.

Capone was released in 1939, after serving seven years and paying all of his back taxes. He died of a stroke and pneumonia on January 25, 1947.


The latest article comes from a March 15 2005 report filed by Ryann Connell for Mainichi Daily News. In it we learn, as we had done from

Bobby Fischer can only be expelled to U.S.,
says Immigration boss (excerpts]

Mainichi Daily News is reporting that Bobby Fischer will not be released from Japan to any other country but the United States. This is what Immigration Bureau Chief Masaharu Miura told the House of Councilors Committee on Diplomacy and Defense in Tokyo on Tuesday. "He will be deported only to the country of his citizenship," Miura said. In the first time Fischer's case has been discussed in the Diet since his arrest at Narita Airport in July last year, Miura argued that Article 53 of the Immigration Law says those ordered to be deported from Japan must be sent to their homeland unless exceptional conditions apply. "We have made the decision that this case is not an exceptional one," Miura said.

Democratic Party of Japan Upper House member Kazuya Shimba pointed out that the main purpose of a deportation order is to get the person who it is issued against out of the country. He then asked the Justice Ministry to explain why Fischer was being kept at taxpayer's expense in a cell at the East Japan Immigration Bureau Detention Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, when he had expressed a willingness to leave Japan at his own expense and Iceland had said it was willing to accept him. Miura answered only that the Immigration Law required Fischer to be deported to his homeland, the United States.

Shimba said he felt some may see the Justice Ministry's handling of Fischer's case as not abiding by the laws it is supposed to protect. He added that it would not be a surprise if the ministry was accused of trying to hold Fischer until early April, when a grand jury will convene in the United States to consider laying tax evasion charges on America's only World Chess Champion. Shimba said Japan's treatment of Fischer could jeopardize the drive to secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Michael J. Boyle, Press Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, said that the U.S. government has spoken to its Japanese counterpart to ensure Fischer is returned to the United States. Fischer is wanted in his homeland for playing chess in Yugoslavia in 1992, allegedly in violation of an Executive Order forbidding Americans from undergoing commercial activities in the Balkan state then wracked by civil war and under sanctions.

If you are able to understand Japanese you may want to watch the following CSPAN-like clip in which Kazuya Shimba appears to be addressing the Fisher problem in a governmental committee meeting. He comes on after about the first third of the video stream. Anyone who can understand the proceedings is welcome to send us a short summary (click on the news feedback link in the left navigation of this page).


Previous ChessBase articles

Bobby Fischer: five days in solitary confinement
08.03.2005 We had just reported about Fischer's new passport, which an Icelandic delegation had carried to Japan. A minor mystery was why it had not been handed over to him last Wednesday, as planned. Now we learn that Japanese authorities had put the former world champion into solitary confinement. For five days. Over a hard-boiled egg. We are not joking.

Fischer's passport – to freedom?
08.03.2005 March 9th is Bobby Fischer's 62nd birthday. By chance a very special gift has arrived in Japan for the former world champion: an Icelandic passport with which he may be able to travel to freedom after more than six months in a Japanese detention facility. We have exclusive pictures of the new passport.

Fischer receives an Icelandic passport
2/23/2005 Immigration authorities in Iceland have decided to issue full travel documents for former world champion Bobby Fischer, who is being held in Japanese detention for not possessing a valid passport. Fischer's new passport will be sent to Japan by diplomatic mail, and a delegation is traveling there to escort him to Iceland.
Fischer's lawyer Masako Suzuki speaks out
02.02.2005 Is Japan buckling under pressure by the US? Bobby Fischer, 61, former World Champion of Chess who has been jailed in Japan for six months now, is applying for Icelandic citizenship. But Tokyo seems to be balking at a constructive solution entailing his release to Iceland. Fischer's lawyer Masako Suzuki has given us an exclusive interview.

Bobby Fischer applies for Icelandic Citizenship
25.01.2005 After the Japanese authorities last week refused Fischer's request to be extradited to Iceland the chess legend, who is being held in a Japanese detention facility, has today written to the President of the Icelandic Althingi (picture), applying for Icelandic citizenship. A special law would have to be passed to grant Fischer's request.

Bobby Fischer – immigration plans on ice
22.01.2005 His supporters filed a petition that Fischer might be released from detention in a Tokyo jail and allowed to travel to Iceland, where he has been granted refuge. But Japanese Justice Ministry lawyers said they were not prepared to change Fischer's deportation destination to Iceland, and that he would have to remain in detention. A harsh blow for the chess legend.

Bobby Fischer – six months in jail
1/17/2005 On July 13, 2004 he was arrested at Narita Airport in Tokyo, for attempting to leave the country on an invalidated. Since then the greatest hero of Western chess has been languishing in a Japanese detention facility, now physically exhausted and suffering from dizzy spells. His Icelandic friends, who are offering him refuge, have launched another appeal to the authorities.

US threatens Iceland, Fischer Committee appeals
22.12.2004 Iceland is under US pressure to drop plans to offer a home to fugitive former chess champion Bobby Fischer, the Reuters news agency tells us. But the Icelandic government has stated that its offer "will not be withdrawn despite pressure from the United States." How do we know that? Among other things we read it in Aljazeera, would you believe? Here's the latest on this international confrontation.

RJF Committee mobilizes pro-Fischer forces
18.12.2004 While Bobby Fischer remains incarcerated in a Japanese prison a special committee in Iceland is moving to get him free and find him a home on the North-Atlantic island country. Iceland's foreign minister and a prominent political scientist have spoken out. Here's a report on Fischer's Iceland Connection...
Fischer to get refuge in Iceland?
12/16/2004 The news today on Bobby Fischer, who is currently being held in a Japanese detention facilities pending extradition to the US, is that the Icelandic government has offered to grant him a residence permit. In a telephone interview Fischer speaks about his plight in Japan and reacts to statements by Garry Kasparov on Fischer Random Chess. Full details...
Returning to the 'scene of the crime'
30.11.2004 Twelve years ago Boris Spassky played a match against Bobby Fischer in Yugoslavia. That got Fischer into a lot of trouble, while for Spassky, a French citizen, there were no repercussions. Now the tenth world champion returned to Belgrade to open the Belgrade Chess Trophy. Quick interview...
Fischer to Bush and Koizumi: 'You are going to pay for this!'
18.10.2004 Bobby Fischer, still in detention in Japan, has spoken out again in an interview, this time threatening the Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi and US President Bush: "You are going to pay for this, and you are going to pay for your crimes in Iraq too." His new lawyer, Richard J. Vattuone, plans to release documents to prove US government involvement in a plot against Fischer.
'We want to live together forever'
01.09.2004 She collected pictures of her chess hero after his match with Boris Spassky in 1972. One year later they met in Tokyo – the start of a romance spanning decades. Since four years the two have lived together in downtown Kamata in Tokyo's Ota Ward. In an exclusive interview for ChessBase Miyoko Watai tells us the story of her life with Bobby Fischer.
Listen to Bobby Fischer
26.08.2004 In emotional phone calls from his detention cell in Tokyo ex world champion Bobby Fischer gave a Philippine radio station two lengthy interviews. Fischer is facing deportation and incarceration in the US, and voices his nightmare fears: "I will be tried, convicted, sentenced, imprisoned, tortured and murdered." We have summary transcripts and audio files.
Dramatic moments around Fischer's deportation
25.08.2004 First the Japanese Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa issued a deportation order against former world champion Bobby Fischer's, then Fischer's lawyers filed a lightning appeal on the grounds that physical deportation would be a flagrant violation of Fischer's right to full legal recourse and protection under Japanese law. Here's the full story by Fischer's legal coordinator.
'Bobby Fischer and I have decided to marry'
17.08.2004 Bobby Fischer, the former world chess champion, plans to marry the president of the Japan Chess Association (and four-time Japanese women's champion) Miyoko Watai. This was reported in newspapers and wire services last night. Now Watai-san has sent us a statement explaining the background of her personal relationship with Fischer.
Fischer renounces US citizenship
15.08.2004 Bobby Fischer has been moved to a new detention facility in Tokyo, pending a decision on his deportation to the US, where he faces a 10-year jail sentence. A lot of new material has surfaced, including Fischer's handwritten renouncement of his US citizenship and a blow-by-blow description and picture of his arrest at Narita Airport. Harrowing stuff...
Spassky to Bush: Arrest me!
10.08.2004 Boris Spassky, who played the contentious return match against Bobby Fischer in Yugoslavia 1992, for which the latter is currently facing deportation and incarceration in the US, has appealed to President Bush to show mercy and charity for his tormented successor. If for some reason that should be impossible, Spassky suggests a very imaginative alternative...
Fischer's appeal rejected
28.07.2004 Bobby Fischer's appeal against his deportation was rejected today by Japanese authorities. Meanwhile the Icelandic Chess Federation has appealed to US president Bush to pardon Fischer and set up a petition web site to collect signatures. In Tokyo a "Free Fischer Press Conference" is scheduled for Thursday. More...
Fischer a sacrificial pawn?
25.07.2004 Bobby Fischer is still in detention at Narita Airport in Tokyo, traumatised but stubborn, "behaving like a Samurai". At the same time news outlets all over the world are covering the story, with Fischer's brother-in-law Russell Targ assailing the Bush administration for playing election year politics with the former chess champion's freedom. There's a lot to be read...
Game of Life: Kasparov on Fischer – in full
20.07.2004 The news of Fischer's arrest in Japan came as a shock to Garry Kasparov, who was in a holiday camp working intensely on the games of his greatest American predecessor. In today's issue of The Wall Street Journal Kasparov assesses Fischer's chess career – for a public that was being exposed to his current situation. We now bring you Kasparov's full article.
Will Fischer be extradited?
19.07.2004 Chess legend Bobby Fischer, the hero of millions, languishes in the detention facilities of Narita Airport in Tokyo, waiting for a decision by Japanese Immigration authorities on his deportation to the US. We have collected all the documents and reconstructed a timeline to his arrest. Fischer, who has no legal counsel, is appealing for international assistance.
Bobby Fischer detained in Japan (updated)
16.07.2004 It's the latest twist in the sad tale of American former world champion Bobby Fischer. He has been detained in Japan and faces possible deportation to the US to face charges for playing in Yugoslavia in 1992. Fischer's website says he was "very nearly killed" in Japan. The story has been picked up by news services all over the world.

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