US Sanctions against FIDE President

11/26/2015 – It comes at a bad time: on the eve of a visit to the USA, to negotiate the venue of the 2016 World Chess Championship (Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York), FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has been hit by sanctions of the US Treasury. This is mainly because of dealings with Syria and it President Assad. Currently US citizens are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with him.

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On Wednesday the news broke: the US Department of the Treasury issued sanctions on networks providing support to the Government of Syria, including facilitating Syrian Government oil purchases from ISIL. In the November 25, 2015 press release the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said:

In response to continuing violence by the Assad regime against its citizens, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated four individuals and six entities providing support to the Government of Syria pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13582, including a middleman for oil purchases by the Syrian regime from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). As a result of today’s action, all assets of those designated that are in the United States or that are in the control of U.S. persons are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.


Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was designated today for materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria, Central Bank of Syria, Adib Mayaleh, and Batoul Rida. Ilyumzhinov is a wealthy Russian businessman, former president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, and long-time World Chess Federation president. He is linked to financial transactions involving Khuri-associated companies [Mudalal Khuri has had a long association with the Assad regime and represents regime business and financial interests in Russia] as early as 1997 and owns or controls the Russian Financial Alliance Bank, along with Khuri. An advisor to Ilyumzhinov, then-President of Kalmykia, was convicted in Russia in 1999 for the murder of an opposition journalist who reportedly was investigating an offshore business registration mechanism in Kalmykia tied to Ilyumzhinov. Russian authorities subsequently closed the offshore business registration mechanism after concluding that it was being used for illegal purposes.

OFAC designated Russian Financial Alliance Bank (RFA Bank) today for being owned or controlled by Khuri and Ilyumzhinov. Khuri is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of RFA Bank, and Ilyumzhinov is a major shareholder of RFA Bank and former Chairman of the Board of Directors of RFA Bank. At the time of his Chairmanship, Ilyumzhinov reportedly brought in his own representatives to the bank.

In April 2012 we reported on the FIDE President's visit to Syria, which included a three-hour talk with the President of Syria Bachar Assad in Damascus. Assad tasked the Syrian Ministry of Education to sign an Agreement to join the "Chess in Schools" project with the World Chess Federation. According to Ilyumzhinov "the Syrian President plays chess very well – since his studies in London".

A year before Ilyumzhinov had also visited the beleaguered Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and played a game of chess with him (see our report at the time). In August 2011, when rebels were storming Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli, and NATO and US Intelligence were searching with satellites and surveillance drones for him, Ilyumzhinov received a call from Gaddafi telling him that he was alive and well, and 'certain to win'.

Ilumzhinov's reaction

The latest imposition of sanctions by the US Treasury has potentially far-reaching consequences, especially since Ilyumzhinov and FIDE have announced plans to stage the next World Chess Championship in the US (in November 2016). It also comes a month after Russian Chess Federation Andrey Filatov made a proposal to Ilyumzhinov to run for FIFA President, after the crisis of the scandal-ridden office of the World Football Association.

In an article this morning on the web site of the Russian Chess Federation Ilyumzhinov declares that he has no accounts abroad and is not afraid of provocations:

"I have a Sunday visit to the US, which will host the talks and the signing of a contract for the World Chess Championship in November next year in New York. The fact that they put me on the list – well, we will investigate that. I will go to the Ministry of Finance and ask them what they have against me, if they have questions. I was in Syria two years ago in Syria, and we held a children's tournament there. I met with the leadership of the country, but there are no commercial relations, no economic connections. I think this will not affect my work. The US Treasury has just recently frozen accounts, but I have accounts abroad, no, flats, yachts – nothing. I have not done anything against the United States, I have never stolen money from them, I have never sold weapons anywhere, my activity is open and I am not afraid of anything."

Ilyumzhinov told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that he had visited Syria repeatedly and "met with President Bashar al-Assad and other officials. At one time I even played chess with the (former Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein. In chess, there is no politics – we are promoting the sport worldwide and communicate with everybody." On Sunday he will be visiting the USA, where negotiations will take place at the venue of the 2016 World Chess Championship – Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York. "If they have any questions I am ready to answer them, ready to meet in New York or Washington with representatives of the US Treasury. I will not cancel my trip. I vist about one hundred countries per year – now I am in Italy, soon I will be in Turkey, Israel, Switzerland, the United Kingdom. I am the FIDE President and I have work to do."

Articles in today's broadsheets

Major article in the New York Times

Article in the Financial Times

Wall Street Journal report

Russian news agency Tass reporting

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Aighearach Aighearach 11/28/2015 08:03
No @WalkTheWalk, that's just crazy-talk. Who said anything about the sanctions being for something Assad did, in one year or any other? I'll give you that answer. You said it! Just now. You made it up. Is that the "walk" you're talking there buddy?

The sanctions are for being an ISIS middle-man selling illicit oil.

Kasparov, wait, what the heck?! Oh, oh, I get it, I get it. Now I know what walk you're talking. No, sorry man. Russia hating their own (Kasparov) doesn't make him some sort of American cause. I know this is probably shocking to you, but the US government doesn't care at all about what Kasparov is doing. He's a fine guy, but he's not even an American. Most of his business dealing is in Europe. I know for Russians it might seem like, your government dislikes Kasparov so the evil USA would want to be on his side, but actually the US government has real issues that they worry about that deal with our own national interests. And chess player or not, Kasparov fan or not, he has nothing to do with international events that affect the US.

You actually have the nerve to claim this is based on some sort of minor gamesmanship, but that says a lot about your character. Turn on the news, buddy. There was a terror attack in Paris recently. Did you hear about it? You think we're playing a silly game with Kasparov?! bleepity-bleep bleep bleep bleeep 6=^%&^% $^%$ #%$##% %$#%# bleep bleeep bleep!
WalkTheWalk WalkTheWalk 11/28/2015 07:03
Why punishing Kirsan for meeting Asad in 2012??? Only now?

Obviously this is politically motivated, and is revenge for FIDE banning Kasparov from participation in any chess events for the next two years (for corrupting some officials).

I love chess, but have to admit that this web site is serving not only chess, but cohort of people who use chess popularity for their own political agenda.
Aighearach Aighearach 11/28/2015 06:03
LMAO Good luck buying a sandwich while you're here, nobody is allowed to take your money. Good luck making it through airport security, too. Not only in the US, but in any first world country. I'm sure you can still visit second world countries, like... Russia and Belarus. I'm sure you can also still organize tournaments and sign contracts in Kazakhstan, Iran, or Mongolia. Even China, though they seem to be organizing their own tournaments.

Totally hilarious that he proposes to the world that he's such a big shot, he is going to stroll into the Treasury Dept. and somehow just explain to them how important and innocent-looking he is. I'm not sure how his spin makes him look tough, since he won't actually be showing up there, and would leave in failure if he did.

ISIS supporters are welcome to whine and shout "hegemony," but don't expect that to reduce the effort of western countries to combat terrorism. Just because he plays chess, don't think that gives him a pass for being an ISIS middle-man. He's under sanctions for reasons, not for your hand-waving. Nobody cares if Russia has nukes, so do we. That doesn't mean we sit by while you broker oil contracts for ISIS. We can't get a cruise missile to him unless he returns to Syria, but like he pointed out, we can certainly deny him the ability to have foreign bank accounts, or even a yacht.
lwolf123 lwolf123 11/28/2015 02:19
It would benefit professional chess players, if he would step down. There's many organizations that would help finance chess, but they do not want this guy's face next to their product/service.

I have no opinion on the sanctions either way, don't know enough about what's going on over there. Based on knowing nothing, the U.S. should stay out of conflict. Go Bernie!
reddawg07 reddawg07 11/27/2015 04:39
Kirsan should just resign. Putin was just accusing Turkey of buying oil from the IS group.
And here is this guy buying oil from IS. There is no place for him in FIDE. At least Putin and Russia
accepted the ban on their athletes regarding the drug-use accusation. Kirsan, if he is truly concern about
the welfare of the FIDE organization, should just resign.
Balthus Balthus 11/27/2015 01:59
PS As for what the US Syrian politics has led to, I think very little has to be said.
Balthus Balthus 11/27/2015 01:52
@TheBoss I hear you. Rest assured that I have not been living under a rock; perhaps FIDE could and should have a better, more unimpeachable president, like most of all international sports federations. But this should be treated separately from the question of the 2016 World Championships. I think we are at cross purposes on this issue. In terms of chess funding and management, however, I maintain that Ilyumzhinov has enacted some positive changes in the chessing world. Regards, B
Nyanaviveka Nyanaviveka 11/27/2015 11:01
With this article you have won our respect. Even though it shows just the tip of the iceberg, it gives us an idea to what extent Ilyumzhinov and his companions have transformed chess into a political instrument of Putin's imperialism. We didn't expect to see this objective and highly informative reporting on the Chessbase website. Maybe this paves the path for a more critical approach towards the activities within FIDE. What a wonderful opportunity to refresh the image of Chessbase in the awareness of the friends of your products.
joker1999 joker1999 11/27/2015 08:05
In an interview FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said, that he was abducted by inter-planetarians.
An organisation like as FIDE should elect a more reliable president. At this moment FIDE is only a laughing stock.
Rfield Rfield 11/27/2015 07:03
Entities pursuing banking agendas beyond a non-controlled US central bank sanction is applied. US treasury is owned and controlled by whom? Is it owned by the US people, controlled by the people's representative government or in disguised not owned though controlled by the US corporation group and to which is also under manipulation by a shadowy body?

Washington cannot convinced Damascus on its side. US treasury can withhold a chess federation transaction.
HubertKnott HubertKnott 11/27/2015 03:38
"In chess, there is no politics---we are promoting the sport worldwide and communicate with everybody." While Ilyumzhinov's statement seems stirringly idealistic, we have to acknowledge that chess cannot and should not live in a vacuum apart from the political world. If you massacre your own people and ignore the UN and the voice of liberal democracy all at the same time (unthinkable yet quite possible in this world), then why would the president of a sporting body like chess ever want to have discourse with you? FIDE deserves new leadership, but we will never get that because of a one-nation-one-vote system that will indefinitely keep Ilyumzhinov in office. The sanctions against Ilyumzhinov do not serve chess. But the odds of expelling Ilyumzhinov from FIDE seem smaller than the odds of verifying his account of spending time with aliens.
DJones DJones 11/27/2015 02:45
Decade Decade 11/27/2015 02:38
beerpatzer beerpatzer 11/27/2015 12:31

That's like saying Abraham Lincoln massacred 700,000 of his OWN PEOPLE. And yet, he's considered one of the greatest US presidents ever.
beerpatzer beerpatzer 11/27/2015 12:27
I don't know if Ilyumzhinov is guilty or not, but I'm sure that the timing of the sanctions is NOT coincidental but purposeful, and therefore politically motivated.
Truffaut Truffaut 11/26/2015 11:35

What has Assad done wrong?

How about massacring more than 250,000 of his OWN PEOPLE. You can start with that.
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 11/26/2015 08:09
The Curse of Kirsan strikes again.

Get this guy off the chess stage already. It's time for world chess to grow up.

He'll communicate with 'anybody'? Would he have played chess with Hitler?
The Boss The Boss 11/26/2015 07:06
@Balthus, maybe you have been living under a rock, but for the last two decades, Ilyumzhinov has been very bad news for chess. You are either part of his regime, or an uninformed commentator if you believe this sanction is anything other than wonderful news. Either way, you're clearly not worthy of any further discourse on the subject.
Offramp Offramp 11/26/2015 06:41
Who knew there were chess fans in the US Treasury?
Maturner Maturner 11/26/2015 06:32
Most people in the US do not back the policies of the current administration. Unfortunately we have a long wait until we get responsible leadership in there. We would certainly love to see World Chess Championship in the US.
Rinzou Wilkerson Rinzou Wilkerson 11/26/2015 05:53
I never did like that guy
JohnTVian JohnTVian 11/26/2015 04:40
Get the real truth about what's happening in the Middle East.

NJD NJD 11/26/2015 04:07
It's 2015. He can negotiate over the phone...
Footinmouth Footinmouth 11/26/2015 04:06
It's only a good thing for chess, hope Kirsan will resign soon. And my opinion has nothing to do with Russia, Kirsan just is a crackpot.
JohnTVian JohnTVian 11/26/2015 04:03
What has Assad done wrong, other than not bowing to the imperialistic hegemony of the United States? For all you Americans, who are fast asleep, dreaming that illusive American dream, There are no valid warrants that call for sanctions. Revolt and disobey the US Government and live free...
Balthus Balthus 11/26/2015 03:41
I'm not a "Russian clown", nor a fan of post-Soviet oligarchies, but this level of hypocrisy on the part of the US is just preposterous. I think the FIFA thread is also a factor in the story, which makes this an even more blatant political attack. From our point of view (as fans of chess), this is very bad news as it once again harms the cause of this beautiful game. I don't think Ilyumzhinov's resignation and the appointment of a dummy FIDE president would solve anything. Perhaps the World Chess Championship should not be held in the United States at all? End of, problem solved. (I know this is not desirable either, but neither is it unfeasible.)
Jarman Jarman 11/26/2015 12:14
@Denix: Ilyumzhinov is not a US citizen, which makes the whole story completely different.
Anyway, I believe that if he is not able to fulfill his duties as FIDE president to their full extent he should resign - simple as that. There's also no doubt in my mind that some Russian clown will soon claim this indictment is politically motivated.
CostaMaison3 CostaMaison3 11/26/2015 12:11
US Rules the world.
Denix Denix 11/26/2015 11:55
Is it similar sanctions against the legendary Bobby Fischer?
woodpushkin woodpushkin 11/26/2015 11:45