Singapore ex-chess official and Kasparov get 2-year ban

Russian accused of offering S'porean $696k to secure votes for chess body presidency

Ignatius Leong (left) and former world champion Garry Kasparov have been banned from the World Chess Federation (Fide) for two years, following a vote-buying controversy.
Ignatius Leong (left) and former world champion Garry Kasparov have been banned from the World Chess Federation (Fide) for two years, following a vote-buying controversy.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE/AFP

A Singaporean former chess official and Russian former world champion Garry Kasparov have been banned from the World Chess Federation (Fide) for two years, following a vote-buying controversy.

This means Mr Ignatius Leong, who was once Fide's general secretary, and Mr Kasparov are prohibited from holding any office or position within Fide, as well as any of the organisations and federations affiliated to the sport's ruling body, until Oct 20, 2017.

Both men were found guilty of breaching Fide's code of ethics on Sept 5.

The issue of vote-buying surfaced last year when Mr Kasparov challenged incumbent Fide president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a Russian politician and tycoon, for the presidency.

Mr Ilyumzhinov then accused Mr Kasparov of signing a contract with Mr Leong on Sept 5, 2013, which saw the Singaporean tasked with securing at least 10+1 electoral votes from the Asean region for the grandmaster, in return for US$500,000 (S$696,000) to be paid in tranches.

  • About the case

  • During last year's campaign for the World Chess Federation (Fide) presidency, both incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and his challenger Garry Kasparov accused each other of underhanded dealings.

    Singapore Chess Federation president Ignatius Leong found himself in the news after a 2013 contract signed between him and Mr Kasparov was leaked to The New York Times.

    According to the deal, Mr Leong would help the grandmaster secure at least 10 + 1 votes from the Asean region in return for US$500,000 (S$696,000).

    In another agreement, Mr Kasparov was to open a new chess academy in Singapore called the Kasparov Chess Foundation Asia (KCF Asia), in cooperation with the Asean Chess Academy (ACA), founded and owned by Mr Leong. KCF Asia would give ACA US$250,000 annually for four years.

    On Sept 5, Fide's ethics commission found both men guilty of breaching its code of ethics.

The deal also stated that if Mr Kasparov were to win the election, a new Fide office would be set up in Singapore, to be headed by Mr Leong, who was then the Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) president.

Mr Ilyumzhinov, 53, who has led Fide since 1995, lodged a complaint with its ethics commission in May last year. Three months later, he beat Mr Kasparov, 52, in Fide's election.

Neither Mr Leong nor Mr Kasparov disputed the evidence put before Fide's ethics committee.

But Mr Leong, 59, who was Fide's general secretary from 2005 to last year, maintained his innocence, telling The Straits Times yesterday: "I do not think what I have done is wrong. I wanted things to be written down in a contract to show that it was not just hot air but that something real would be done.

"It (the ban) is unfair because the judgment was based on the draft agreement (with Kasparov). They (Fide)... jumped to conclusions based on a draft agreement. I do not agree with the verdict."

In an interview with The Sunday Times last year, Mr Leong said there was a "second, final contract, which is different from the first draft". He also denied being paid directly for helping to garner votes.

While a New York Times article accused him of switching sides, he said: "I had lost hope with Ilyumzhinov and was going to leave anyway. But Kasparov came along and invited me to join him."

SCF president Leonard Lau said: "I feel that it does the world chess community no good to have the sport associated with such negativity. But, at the same time, a strong deterrent message must be sent to those proven to be involved in any unethical or corrupt behaviour."

Mr Leong has submitted an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland in an attempt to get his ban lifted.

Mr Ilyumzhinov is well known for his eccentricities. He has claimed chess was invented by extraterrestrials and that he was once abducted by aliens in yellow spacesuits.

The dispute between Mr Kasparov and Mr Ilyumzhinov, himself a chess prodigy, is believed to have political overtones. The grandmaster is a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and had sought to depict his rival as a puppet of the Kremlin.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore ex-chess official and Kasparov get 2-year ban'. Subscribe