World Chess Federation says Swiss bank accounts frozen over its president's Syria sanctions

The World Chess Federation said that Swiss bank UBS was closing the federation's accounts, on Feb 12, 2018.
The World Chess Federation said that Swiss bank UBS was closing the federation's accounts, on Feb 12, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

ATHENS (REUTERS/BLOOMBERG) - The World Chess Federation (Fide) says its Swiss bank accounts have been frozen because its president - with whom the Fide secretariat is embroiled in a power struggle - is under American sanctions for alleged dealings with the Syrian government.

"The Swiss Bank UBS has announced that they will immediately close our accounts," Fide's treasurer, Adrian Siegel, said in a Feb 12 letter posted on its website.

"The white money strategy in Switzerland does not allow to do business with institutions or persons on the sanction list of the US Department of the Treasury. Thus, it was only a question of time until we face this serious problem."

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a Russian who has headed Fide for over two decades, was placed under American sanctions in November 2015, accused of aiding the Syrian government.

The millionaire businessman and former politician has denied the accusations, and Interfax news agency on Wednesday (Feb 14) quoted him as insisting the bank accounts were not blocked.

"No one has blocked the UBS accounts, they are all active, I have checked recently. All events are taking place," he was quoted as saying.

UBS said it could not comment on whether individuals or organisations were clients of the bank. "We can't comment on whether individuals or organisations are clients of UBS. We follow all laws and regulations that are applicable to us," UBS said.

Ilyumzhinov first headed Fide in 1995 and was re-elected to another four-year term in 2014. In 2015, he was stripped of his financial, commercial and legal duties, with responsibilities handed over to deputy president Georgios Makropoulos of Greece, according to the letter. However, its website still lists Ilyumzhinov as president.

Last March, the Russian oligarch accused Fide, whose secretariat is based in Athens, of an attempted "revolution" to oust him by falsely announcing his resignation. He said he intended to serve his full term and would decide this year whether to run for re-election in September.

Siegel said Fide had so far been allowed to keep its accounts because Ilyumzhinov had informed Fide on several occasions that he would soon be removed from the sanctions list.

"Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has unsuccessfully tried several times to be removed from this list and at the moment, there is no hint at all that there will be a change," Siegel said.

A former politician from Russia's Kalmykia region, Ilyumzhinov has long been a lightning rod for controversy. Before being put on the US list, he had been photographed with Libya's chess-playing leader Muammar Al-Gaddafi.

He also claimed to have been abducted by aliens, German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung reported in December.