The eccentric Russian president of the world chess federation will not step down despite calls from his colleagues, who say the US sanctions against him have cut the organisation off from financing.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a multimillionaire ally of Vladimir Putin who has visited dictators like Bashar al-Assad and claims to have once been abducted by aliens, told The Telegraph he would not resign and would in fact seek re-election in October’s vote. He has been in office since 1995.
“I’m normal, I’m physically healthy, I feel strong. My goal is for a billion people to play chess, so I will run for president of FIDE,” he said, referring to the organisation by its common French acronym.
After a session on Sunday in Belarus, the FIDE presidential board said it was referring Mr Ilyumzhinov to the ethics commission for “spreading lies and defamatory statements” and that he should resign immediately.
UBS will close FIDE’s accounts on April 30, and other banks have refused to take on the chess body as a client as long as its president is under US sanctions, the board said.
The United States sanctioned Mr Ilyumzhinov along with his Russian Financial Alliance Bank in 2015 for “materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria”.
Mr Ilyumzhinov said he had missed the FIDE meeting because of a regular medical procedure. He argued, however, that the group had not “seen any problems with financing or lack of sponsors” while holding events like world championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin in November 2016, which he was unable to attend.
“Since 2014, I’ve made more than 100 international trips, visited dozens of countries and participated in many events, so I think the statement that I’m hindering FIDE is baseless,” he said. “On the contrary, I’m propagandising the development chess.”
Mr Ilyumzhinov wrote a letter to president Donald Trump this year asking to reconsider his request for a US visa, he added, saying he was “ready to answer all questions”.
Controversy has rarely been far behind Mr Ilyumzhinov, who defeated self-exiled Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov to retain the FIDE presidency in 2014 and says he has spent millions of dollars of his own money on chess.
While serving as head of Russia’s Kalmykia republic in 1997, he claimed that beings in yellow spacesuits abducted him from an apartment balcony.
He traveled to Tripoli to play chess with Muammar Gaddafi during the Nato bombing campaign in 2011 and also visited Saddam Hussein shortly before the US invasion.
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