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.

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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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