World chess chief hands over powers after US sanctions

The head of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, has temporarily transferred most of his powers to his deputy after being added to a US sanctions list for alleged ties to the Syrian regime, the organisation said Sunday. At a FIDE meeting in Athens, Ilyumzhinov "informed the presidential board that he will withdraw from any legal, financial and business operations of FIDE until such time as (he) is removed from the (US) Office of Foreign Assets Control sanction list," FIDE executive director Nigel Freeman said in a statement. "Mr Ilyumzhinov?s decision... is to enable him to concentrate on clearing the situation with the US Department of the Treasury," he said. Ilyumzhinov, a 53-year-old Russian politician, was first elected FIDE president in 1995, and was re-elected by a large majority in 2014 against chess legend Garry Kasparov, who opposes Russian President Vladimir Putin. His stand-in is the federation's vice president, Georgios Makropoulos, a Greek. The US Treasury Department accuses Ilyumzhinov of "materially assisting and acting for or on the behalf of" the Syrian government and central bank, as well as central bank governor Adib Mayaleh. The sanctions forbid US individuals or entities from doing any business with those on the blacklist, restricting their access to international financial networks crucial to doing business. A wealthy Buddhist who has also served as head of Russia's Republic of Kalmykia, Ilyumzhinov hit the headlines over his close ties to authoritarian leaders. They included former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, with whom he played a media-friendly game of chess in Libya in June 2011 as NATO was bombing the country. He has described the sanctions decision unveiled last month as a "provocation" He said he had frequently been to Syria and met top officials, including President Bashar al-Assad, but had "no economic interests" there, or in Iraq. Sunday's statement said Ilyumzhinov had informed FIDE that he had launched legal procedures in the United States "to request additional information and reverse (the) restrictive measures". The Treasury Department named four individuals and six entities for sanctions for their support of the Assad regime, "including a middleman for oil purchases by the Syrian regime from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)," another name for the Islamic State group. Russian Financial Alliance Bank, of which Ilyumzhinov is a major shareholder, was also targeted by the sanctions.