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FIDE, spiraling towards insolvency and mired in self-seeking political intrigues in the Campomanes-led years, has sunk to new depths of moral bankruptcy under Kirsan Iljumzhinov (Russia) as demonstrated in the goings-on leading to and in the Yerevan Congress. While many chose only to see the President of the Kalmyk Republic as a fairytale prince heaping largesse on an impoverished FIDE and were only too happy to cling on to his gravy train, there were others who saw him as a present day Emperor With No Clothes with his own agenda who likes nothing better than to lord over the world organization like his own mediaeval serfdom.
Ignatius Leong (Singapore), who in Yerevan voted with his conscience and feet - throwing away a well-paid job as FIDE's Administrative Manager - breaks his post-Yerevan silence - self-imposed pending the long-overdue settlement of his salary and financial claims on FIDE and the circulation of the Yerevan Congress Minutes - to provide a unique insight into the rot that has beset FIDE. As in Moscow 1994, when Leong fought beside Bachar Kouatly (France) to oust Florencio Campomanes (Philippines), and resisted Campomanes' buy-off offer of a SFr 4,000-a-month job; and Paris 1995, when in the spirit of compromise following Campomanes' retirement, he, without consulting Kouatly, re-assigned the proxy of Campomanes' homeland Philippines to the ex-President to save his face and so enable him to have the grand total of 17 proxies to disperse among his allies, Leong has always acted with the larger interests of Chess at heart.
Tang Kum-Foo (Singapore), who went to Yerevan as Iljumzhinov's Press Officer at the recommendation of Leong, had declared to Kouatly after his second close-up view of Iljumzhinov (his separate sessions with journalists and arbiters): "I cannot see a winning team that does not have Iljumzhinov in it. He is like a prince, a movie star...reaching out to the people." What the seasoned journalist did not voice then was his disquiet with some aspects of the glitzy Iljumzhinov roadshow; there was a certain hollowness, sameness, repetitiveness, inconcreteness about the upbeat self-glorifying Iljumzhinov speeches. Tang knew better: When you smell flowers, ask where the corpses are.
Before, throughout and after the Yerevan Congress, Leong confided in and consulted Tang constantly over the Congress and the issues of world chess. After many hours of discussions they decided to share their thoughts and hopes with the chess fraternity everywhere. Gens Una Sumus.
July 1996 - Riding on the Kouatly Ticket
Things were looking good for Iljumzhinov: he thought he had done his best to save the World Championship Match and had feted the Executive Council in Elista. Then came the fly in the junket: news came that Jaime Sunye Neto (Brazil) was ready to stand for President in Yerevan.
Unpracticed in the ways of democracy, Iljumzhinov took the news badly. The day after the closing ceremony of the Match, he dropped the shocker on the chess world: He shall not present his ticket for the FIDE Election in Yerevan because he did not wish to participate in the intrigue that had plagued FIDE in recent years. He confirmed this via communiqué the following day, 15 July 1996.
Fearing that the Sunye ticket would win by default, World Champion Anatoly Karpov (Russia) suggested to Kouatly that the latter form a ticket and that if Iljumzhinov changed his mind, the Kouatly team would rally support to have Iljumzhinov lead it. Karpov agreed to be on the ticket on the understanding that he would withdraw in favor of Kouatly if and when Iljumzhinov took Kouatly's place. As Kouatly and Karpov were then leaving Elista, they requested Leong to present the plan to Iljumzhinov. They also agreed to abort the plan if Iljumzhinov disapproved of it.
The plan went down well with Iljumzhinov. After all, it was unthinkable that the President of a republic should risk losing to a mere grandmaster of chess. It was unthinkable that the President of a republic should even be seen contesting against a mere grandmaster of chess. Leave the front-end stuff to Kouatly and his team, the Prince will take the limelight and fanfare later. Accordingly, Iljumzhinov gave Leong permission to help create the Kouatly ticket.
Many federations, while disappointed with Iljumzhinov's non-candidacy, were delighted when they read the campaign letter of Kouatly's ticket.
August 1996 - Ticket of 2 with Makropoulous
However, soon after his trip to Taiwan and the Philippines, Iljumzhinov convened a special meeting in Moscow on 10 August to discuss his new plan. Present were Campomanes, Kouatly, Andrei Makarov (Russia), Georgios Makropoulous (Greece), Willy Iclicki (Belgium), Roman Toran (Spain), Boris Kutin (Slovenia). Leong was there and so were Alexei Orlov (Russia) and Casto Abundo (Philippines). Apparently, several others, including Sunye, declined to be there.
The participants felt the need to have only one ticket at Yerevan. They hoped Sunye and Kouatly would withdraw their tickets to enable Iljumzhinov to present his ticket with Makropoulous as Deputy President and for Iljumzhinov to nominate the other officers after his election.
Makarov came late. He said that Leong had insulted him and the Russian Chess Federation and that he could kill him with one hand. He demanded that Iljumzhinov dismiss Leong immediately and that Iljumzhinov must not nominate Kouatly otherwise he would not continue the discussions or act as the negotiator with Sunye. At this point, Kouatly left the meeting room in protest that Makarov had, in a meeting, threatened to kill somebody. The meeting was adjourned.
During lunch, in the presence of everybody (except Makarov), Iljumzhinov asked Leong what he should do. Leong offered his resignation if that would help Iljumzhinov and the negotiations. But Iljumzhinov said to everybody's surprise that he would defend him, that he could not dismiss somebody just because one person disliked another. Iljumzhinov had a private talk with Makarov and the meeting resumed without the latter.
Towards the end of the meeting, Campomanes wanted Kouatly and Toran to sign a document stating their withdrawal and to support Iljumzhinov's ticket of two with Makropoulous. Kouatly and Toran refused, saying they wanted to discuss with their team-mates first.
Kill the US Motion
From Lausanne on 14 August, Campomanes requested Iljumzhinov by fax to sign a letter to reject the motion of the US Chess Federation to end the term of Chairman in Yerevan. Such a letter would effectively kill the motion and exclude it from the Yerevan agenda.
For some strange reason, Leong was then still in Moscow. When he showed Campomanes' letter to Iljumzhinov, the President clapped his hands and said this was the best ever proposal from the West. He added that, after Yerevan, there would be no more Campomanes. In his two and a half months with Iljumzhinov, Leong had never seen him so happy after reading a document. Leong advised Iljumzhinov to obtain the full text of the US motion from the FIDE office.
Several days passed with no news on the US motion from Lausanne. By now, the motion had to be included on the agenda to reach member-federations six weeks before the General Assembly. On 25 August, in Elista, Leong finally received from Lausanne the copy of the fax of the US Chess Federation.
The US Chess Federation had prepared the fax on 28 June (Friday) and it was stamped received by FIDE on 1 July (Monday). And so it took 6 weeks for a motion of particularly great interest to the chess world to reach the President!
Soon after Lausanne, Campomanes was in China. He tried to persuade Sun Lianzhi (China) to sign the same document to withdraw from the Yerevan election. Sun flatly refused. Campomanes left after only one day in Beijing.
Aborted World Tour, Broken Promises, Lies and Unanswered Questions
No fewer than a dozen federations were keen to host the visits of Iljumzhinov. Yet on the eve of his scheduled departure for Zambia, he called off his world tour. He claimed that he needed to be in Yerevan for final inspection of the Olympiad. He also said he had less than one month to prepare the bank guarantees for the Annual World Championship in 1996, the Karpov-Kasparov and Fischer-Karpov matches in 1997 and the Elista Olympiad in 1998. He said that with the presentation of these bank guarantees at the General Assembly in Yerevan, he was sure to win the election. Leong felt terribly let down by Iljumzhinov.
Firstly, many federations had worked in cooperation with their governments to receive Iljumzhinov in their countries. The late cancellation caused great embarrassment to these federations and some suffered severe financial distress. For example, the Zambian Government felt deceived by the Zambian Chess Federation and withheld funds for the Olympiad Team. Furthermore, the Zambian sports authorities sought financial compensation from FIDE. David Hamoonga (Zambia), being on the Kouatly ticket, was too embarrassed to travel alone to Yerevan. He managed to persuade his women players to borrow money for their air tickets. In Yerevan, Kouatly and Hamoonga tried many many times to seek financial assistance from Iljumzhinov but were always stonewalled. Whatever magically followed later that led to a smiling Hamoonga applauding and supporting Iljumzhinov in the Congress is anybody's guess.
In several addresses, Iljumzhinov said that he had visited 42 countries and that he paid his own expenses. Leong knew that at least two federations paid the bills for his entourage.
Before the world tour episode, Iljumzhinov had also canceled other trips at the last moment, for example, his trips to Jordan and India. In March, after the Doha Presidential Board Meeting, he missed his flight to Nigeria to attend the closing ceremony of the Zonal Championship. To make things worse, a senior minister had cut short his trip in South America in order to coordinate Iljumzhinov's meeting with the Nigerian Head of State. While in Doha, Leong had assured Emmanuel Omuku (Nigeria) that Iljumzhinov would go to Lagos.
Secondly, the much-touted bank guarantees seemed like mere phantoms. Nothing more was heard or seen of them. However, acting on instructions, Leong drafted a US$3million agreement between FIDE and the Organizing Committee of the Elista Olympiad. This agreement was to be used to secure a bank guarantee a part of which was to offset the prize fund of the concluded World Championship Match. But in Yerevan, delegates were told that Karpov had still not been fully paid. So what is one to make of all this?.
While in Moscow, Iljumzhinov decided to prepare gifts for all delegates, players, arbiters and journalists. Kouatly recommended the watches he had prepared during his 1994 campaign. Leong initially declined to undertake the purchase because of both the time constraint and the difficulty of remitting payment in time.
On 21 August, Orlov confirmed the order and Leong was to personally deliver the goods from Singapore to Yerevan via Moscow. Despite the time constraint, the manufacturer accepted the order but required the normal 30% deposit before production. Leong was caught in zugwang. Being a Singaporean, he knew that the manufacturer would not proceed with the production without first receiving the deposit. If the deposit was remitted late, the order would not be processed in time for collection by 10 September and ultimately he would have to take the blame.
Since he took office in January 1996, Leong had not received his salary despite numerous promises by Iljumzhinov and Orlov that they would remit the money. Between March and May, he waited in vain for his salary. During this period in Singapore, he worked on the administrative preparations for the Karpov-Kamsky Match and chalked up a sizable debt to his federation for telephone expenses. He told Kouatly and Morten Sand (Norway) that he would not be in Elista unless he was paid. Kouatly advanced him about half the amount from his own pocket. Leong was finally paid in July. Only then could he settle all his bills for his telephones, home installment, credit cards etc ...
So Leong was understandably anxious about the timely remittance of the deposit and the payment for the watches. When he sought assistance from his federation to help out with the deposit, the president of the Singapore Chess Federation, knowing his earlier predicament with his salary, gave a flat no. The president just could not trust Iljumzhinov for US$10,000. Leong had no choice but to remit all he had from Elista on 22 August. Tang forked out the balance and made the deposit. Leong flew home on 4 September and it was only on 9 September that the entire payment for the watches was credited in one lump sum to his bank account. Leong managed to withdraw cash only the following day, just in time to collect the watches. On 11 September, he lugged 7 heavy luggages containing the watches and at the airport, he had barely sufficient to pay the excess baggage; reduced to US$5,000 after much negotiation.
At Moscow airport, Orlov, who had promised VIP reception there in order to avoid problems, did not show up. When contacted, he took four hours to arrive and after much hassle, he paid about US$1,000 on customs. Were these the few thousand dollars Leong supposedly gained in business profits, as mentioned by Iclicki in his report?
In Yerevan, Leong was shocked to see the number of gifts Iljumzhinov had prepared. He felt sorry for the people of Kalmykia. After the World Championship Match, and all foreigners had left Elista, he had learned that the local people had not received their salaries for some months because the money was required for the organization of the Match. Leong felt sickened by the recollection of how the Executive Council feasted. He also recalled that most people who worked in the Match were not paid.
A cargo plane was chartered from Moscow to Yerevan and it was on this that Leong had traveled to Yerevan. It stopped in Elista for customs clearance. Because of bad weather, the plane went first to Volgograd and then to Elista. This was why, after his resignation, Leong was worried because he had no ticket out of Yerevan. Incidentally, has anyone figured out why the cargo plane had to clear customs in Elista and not Moscow given the high political profile of Iljumzhinov?
To distribute the gifts, Iljumzhinov had wanted to organize a big cocktail reception to hand out the goodies but Leong suggested private meetings so that everybody could bring home fond memories of their meetings with the FIDE President. Iljumzhinov liked this idea very much; he smiled a lot, shook everybody's hand, signed autographs and posed for photographs. He had at first wanted to stay in Yerevan throughout the Olympiad but changed his mind and wanted to be done with all the teams within four days.
Iljumzhinov thought that this process was a big success. Leong personally felt that Iljumzhinov should be commended. At some point, he almost lost his voice. Tang felt that Iljumzhinov had scored a huge public relations victory. He was not so sure about the man behind the image.
September 1996 - Alliance with Sunye
Now that he had met all the teams and delegates, Iljumzhinov started to play the Sunye card. Leong thought it was Sunye who self-destruct. The Sunye ticket was formed out of the Utrecht Meeting which felt that Iljumzhinov should be displaced. Yet, Sunye courted an alliance. They spent about two hours at their first private session. Makropoulous knew this and started to panic.
Iljumzhinov asked Leong's opinion. Leong felt that the ground in Yerevan was sweet for Iljumzhinov and there was no need for him to ally with any particular person; be it Campomanes, Makropoulous, Sunye or Kouatly. Leong told him that he could win by himself if he went for individual elections. The fact that Sunye came to him with a compromise meant that the Sunye ticket was weak. Sunye had practically no support from Asia. Having lost Omuku, Sunye had little support left in Africa. Also, with Makarov as an uncertainty, Sunye was dead.
Soon after the declaration of the Iljumzhinov-Sunye alliance at the Central Committee, Campomanes and Makropoulous changed color. Makropoulous warmed up towards Kouatly. Campomanes was all but ingratiating to Kouatly; for him the Central Committee meetings had ended on a particularly somber note, with the end of his Chairmanship and investigations into ex-gratia payments in the air. But the Iljumzhinov-Sunye alliance was short-lived; at the General Assembly, Iljumzhinov asked for a ticket of two with Makropoulous.
To Leong, all these maneuverings and horse-trading was old hat. It was Moscow and Paris all over again, with the notable exception that Kouatly was conducting a much quieter campaign. So was all the time-wasting, feet-dragging, soporific speechifying, calculated to wear down unsuspecting delegates until...
Until someone proposed in one quick moment that Campomanes be elevated (how else can one describe it?) - to Honorary President with Voting Powers and this was passed in a nanosecond without an objection, a whimper - much less debate. What had become of all that sound and fury in the Central Committee, the US Motion to end the Chairmanship, the investigations into ex-gratia payments? No-one seemed more surprised than Campomanes himself when he stood up to thank the Board Member who had made that stupendously historic proposal.
Leong was dumbfounded. Things have come full circle. It is the era of Campomanes the master puppeteer again. A President Regent no less in this incarnation. How low can FIDE go? But he kept his peace. He was after all still FIDE's Administrative Manager. Like a good civil servant, he kept to himself his misgivings, his pain.
October 1996 - A Free Man
Leong submitted his letter of resignation with immediate effect on 30 September, during the General Assembly. He had prepared the letter during lunch in consultation with Tang. It was undated because Leong was hesitant. It meant a huge sacrifice after all. Just before resumption, he handed the letter to Iljumzhinov.
He voted for individual elections as he felt the ticket format was excessively divisive and had caused intrigue within FIDE. This motion defeated, he voted for the ticket of eight, in the spirit of Paris 1995 and the Executive Council in Elista in June 1996. With this also defeated, he voted against the motion to first elect the President and allow him to select his own ticket because nobody should be given a blank cheque.
Iljumzhinov became angry with Leong and in a private meeting during the coffee break ordered him out of the Congress and took away the Singapore vote and his three proxies - Mongolia, Pakistan and Seychelles. Iljumzhinov stabbed Leong repeatedly in the chest with his finger. He raged over the way Leong had voted. "The Mongolians are my brothers. How can you use their vote against me?" (Leong also had the proxy of Mongolia in 1994/5 and that of Pakistan in 1994.) The action of the FIDE President in banishing a delegate from the Congress and disenfranchising him of his rightful vote and proxies simply because he did not like the way the delegate had voted is undemocratic, illegal and immoral. But what could Leong do? Orlov was right: Iljumzhinov is President of a Republic - who is Leong?
When the General Assembly resumed to elect the Presidential Ticket of 5, Kouatly learnt from an enraged Sun that something had happened to Leong. Sun, who had heard of Leong's plight from Tang, wanted Kouatly to bring this to the assembly's attention. Kouatly, shocked at the tactics used against Leong, was especially concerned because of his deep camaraderie with Leong. He demanded an explanation from Iljumzhinov amidst a general wash of emotion from the assembly. Kouatly burned cold with righteous anger. But to Kouatly's credit, his statements were balanced, forthright and controlled. Phil Haley (Canada) demanded an investigation into the affairs. Several delegates rose to the President's defense. Makarov made his infamous "Only prostitutes work at night" speech. His back against the wall, the embattled Iljumzhinov stuttered and threw a tantrum: If after everything he has done for FIDE he is not wanted, then somebody else can be FIDE President. Then came the masterstroke: "Me!
eting adjourned till 9am tomorrow."
>From his vantage point in the assembly, Tang saw the hand of Campomanes instigating this last little move. There's time now, for those who "work in the night" - to borrow Makarov's phrase - to work on the delegates yet.
In the night, Iljumzhinov's aides summoned Leong to his room. Initially, he was afraid to go because Iljumzhinov had angrily told him earlier that day that he did not want to see his face anymore anywhere. The aides urged Leong to go with them and assured him that everything was alright. During their two-hour private discussion, Iljumzhinov said Kouatly had shouted at him and accused him of threatening to kill Leong. Leong did not quite believe that Kouatly would say something like this without first checking with him. Later, Herman Hamers (Netherlands), Steven Doyle (United States) and Tang confirmed that Kouatly did not accuse Iljumzhinov of threatening to kill him.
Leong told Iljumzhinov that he disliked the intrigue he was spinning. - first with Kouatly, then with Campomanes-Makropoulous, Sunye and again with Campomanes-Makropoulous. Iljumzhinov said he negotiated with Sunye in order to destabilize the Sunye ticket. He claimed that his plan worked because the Sunye ticket became complacent and did not work as hard.
Leong reminded him that since August, he had never advised Iljumzhinov to align himself with the Kouatly ticket. Leong said he had told Iljumzhinov that he should go alone and for individual elections. This would avoid politicizing and further intrigue. Iljumzhinov was angry and stated that FOR HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO FIDE, HE ALONE SHOULD DECIDE WHO HE WISHED TO WORK WITH AND THE CONGRESS SHOULD NOT TELL HIM SO.
Leong voiced his dislike for the ways Campomanes and Makropoulous had campaigned for Iljumzhinov. An example was Omuku. He felt that there was no need for Omuku to attack Sunye. Leong also told him that because of Iljumzhinov changing his alliances, he was giving wrong updates to his friends and delegates. Iljumzhinov said that ONCE HE HAD SET HIS MIND ON HIS OBJECTIVES, NO ONE SHOULD QUESTION HOW HE ACHIEVED THEM. Leong's answer was that because of their differences of opinion, they could not work with each other. However, realizing that he would not be able to leave the room peacefully, he decided to pacify Iljumzhinov by agreeing to withdraw his resignation and to attend the General Assembly again.
At the General Assembly, Egon Ditt (Germany) demanded that the Leong affair be addressed. Leong was asked to make a statement. He said that although Iljumzhinov had persuaded him to continue his work but as his life had been threatened in Moscow in August and with this new situation, he did not see how he could continue again. Hamers completed by reading the full text of his statement.
Curiously and significantly, considering the surge of emotion before the meeting was adjourned the previous day, not one delegate asked Leong to explain what happened in Moscow in August. No-one seemed particularly perturbed by what had happened to him the day before. Truly, those who "work in the night" had worked overtime! During coffee break, a journalist asked Leong why the delegates were that way. Leong replied that either all the delegates were sleeping or they just could not be bothered. This is how apathetic some FIDE delegates have become.
The Best Men for FIDE?
While Sunye scratched around to pick together a ticket against Iljumzhinov's, Leong's proxies were reinstated. Then he heard that Sunye did not want to include Kouatly and therefore Sand did not want in either. Poor Sunye, what had happened to his team-mates? The Utrecht resolution which appeared so strong and dynamic was destroyed. All those who initially cried wolf over Iljumzhinov had abandoned their cause. Did Einar Einarsson (Iceland) and Ditt leave Sunye and if so, why? If Sunye was prepared to compromise with Iljumzhinov at one stage, why was he not prepared to work with Kouatly?
The eventual Sunye ticket obtained 47 votes out of 133. Not a bad result. Nonetheless, many of the Sunye votes were probably anti-Iljumzhinov rather than pro-Sunye votes. Leong voted for Sunye on this basis.
Immediately after the elections, Iljumzhinov appointed four Vice Presidents - was this not against the resolution to have a ticket of only five? Among those who accepted appointments as Vice Presidents were Pedro Barrera (El Salvador) from the Kouatly ticket and Makarov and Doyle from the original Sunye ticket and who were strongly against Iljumzhinov in Utrecht. Doyle remains an enigma: only he can rationalize why he is so comfortable sleeping with the enemy.
In any case, it does not matter who are on the Presidential Board for as long as Campomanes is still alive in FIDE, we shall continue to see intrigue in FIDE. Needless to say, Makropoulous is alive as long as Campomanes is alive.
As for Iljumzhinov, his victory may well turn out to be pyrrhic. Having spent an estimated US$500,000 on gifts etc to secure his position, he gained only 64.66% of the vote - a paltry percentage compared with the more than 90% he gained in Paris without spending a dollar. And with Campomanes as Honorary President with Voting Powers, how easy will be the head that wears the nominal crown? And with the Campomanes factor so big, how long will the Iljumzhinov gravy train continue to run? When will Iljumzhinov show to all the chess world his true colors, as alluded to by Sand in his immortal declaration to the General Assembly : "Iljumzhinov is not the Mother Theresa of chess!"? In short, when will the Iljumzhinov bubble burst?
Money politics buoyed the meaner spirits of many at Yerevan and blinded them to the reality of a bloated, inefficient, extravagant, top-heavy FIDE badly in need of overhaul. FIDE may well be the proverbial problem that the solution is looking for.
Every crisis throws up its own heroes; extraordinary men and women with courage and vision who look beyond self-interest for the good of the larger cause. Thinking, feeling, caring far-sighted segments of The Chess World must look beyond the ashes of Yerevan. To the phoenix of hope, restoration, renewal, reconstruction.
So watch this space!
Gens Una Sumus.
Ignatius Leong, Singapore
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