FIDE Falling Short
My earliest experience of the intersection between chess and politics came in 1989, in a musty school gym in Hendon. The prestigious Bell Lane championship was in its final round – the prize the coveted title of Barnet Borough champion – and I was on the verge of pulling off an unlikely upset. Having shocked the presumed champion-elect in the previous round, to maintain a 5/5 record, I needed just half a point to guarantee tournament victory.
With this in mind, I contrived to play a sideways game, miring my and my opponent’s pieces in a thicket of congestion, and – with our clocks ticking steadily down – leaned across the board and offered him a draw. There was no pressing reason for him to accept, given the game was only at its midpoint, but he – with no chance of winning the tournament, and recognising the effect a draw would have on my standings – shook my proffered hand, and that was that.
Or so I thought.
The tournament stewards marched over, smelling a rat and deciding their intervention was required, in the name of fair play and tournament integrity. Grilling us both as to why we were agreeing a draw, their intuition was that something didn’t add up, but equally realised they couldn’t do much more than scowl and allow the draw to stand. Thus did I get my name inscribed on the cup, and book my entry to the nationals as a result of the win.
As the years progressed, my obsession with chess waned in tandem with the waxing of my interest in politics and the world at large. Chess continued to play an important role in my life, but now was competing against life outside the black and white grid, and the intricacies of the geopolitical, economic and diplomatic arenas eventually propelled me into a career as journalist and author.
So, when the two worlds collided for me once again – with the impending FIDE elections looming large over both the chess and political stage, I delved with enthusiasm into the complex and highly-charged battle unfolding between the key challengers for the throne.
Woven into the myriad accusations flying back and forth between the main contenders – Arkady Dvorkovich, Georgios Makropoulos, and Nigel Short – there have been the inevitable charges of vested political, business and national interests, common complaints in contests like these, whether FIDE, FIFA or any other international sporting body.
Partisan readings of each separate accusation are par for the course, and – in an era dominated by the ‘fake news’ cri de coeur usurping measured and empirical refutation of unwanted accusations – it is inevitable that seemingly sensible and serious allegations get drowned out under the deluge of abuse each one provokes.
And yet that does not make them unworthy of interrogation, especially one of the most serious charges brought to date. As with the intervention of the stewards in my childhood borough tournament, there is a pressing need for FIDE’s ethics committee to spring into action to investigate, rather than adopt the supine stance we witnessed two days ago, when their abject dismissal of a complaint simply told the world to move along, that there was nothing to see here.
The charges brought centre on alleged misuse of FIDE funds by Makropoulos, which – prima facie – appear to be substantiated by a wealth of information widely available to anyone prepared to stand up to the barrage of abuse for so doing.
The political backdrop of the internecine battles between Makropoulos and his rivals for the FIDE presidency should be immaterial when it comes to investigating the alleged abuse, and a basic examination of the facts reveals a sordid situation which has never been adequately explained, despite the FIDE Ethics Committees whitewashing of the situation to date.
One detailed report into the events surrounding the allegations reveals some incontrovertible facts, which alone should cause alarm bells to ring throughout the FIDE world. An estimated $100,000 of FIDE funds was said to have been sent to FIDE by Ilyumzhinov, earmarked to be used to pay Makropoulos’s medical expenses. However, no one has ever produced evidence of a formal approval made by FIDE during the relevant period. If this is right then it has breached FIDE’s constitutional rules and raises serious questions as to the efficacy of its own checks and balances. It has been alleged that some 118,000 euros may ultimately be unaccounted for. An investigation is now underway and it is hoped that those who are being investigated will provide full and frank answers.
In his defence contained in the minutes of a Presidential board meeting in Minsk in April 2018, Makropoulos has bizarrely admitted he helped himself to around 45,000 Euros but claimed that he was justified because the then President of FIDE, Ilyumzhinov, had authorised the payments by way of a letter, which itself has dubious provenance. He also says that funds sent to FIDE which were used were somehow not forming part of the FIDE budget. Ilyumzhinov himself has denied that the signature on the letter is his own, but rather was applied by a signature stamp, and he further claimed that the letter was produced and agreed without his authority, thus further indicating that the letter is a forgery, designed to get Makropoulos off the hook and protect his reputation.
There also appears to have been medical insurance in place for Makropoulos and his fellow FIDE executives, casting further doubt over the claims that the FIDE funds were used for medical expenses, and raising even more concern as to the true nature of the withdrawal of the money from FIDE coffers.
Whether or not the letter from Ilyumzhinov is real or not, that is beside the point. Look at it this way Mr Makropoulos: the chairman of a company pumps money into the company and tells an executive director in writing to help himself to part of it. Such would be scandalous and unless the executive director could demonstrate that correct procedures were followed then he would clearly have to resign. What should have happened is as follows: the executive director should have formally notified all other directors in writing of a proposal to take a loan and then taken the loan when it was ratified. He should also have repaid the money.
Alternatively, had Ilyumzhinov paid expenses directly to Makropoulos outside of FIDE then that would have been perfectly acceptable and the loan would not have to be repaid.
Instead, Makropoulos appears to be arguing that he was indeed naughty but was justified in being naughty because someone else told him it was ok to do so. That seems to me to be no defence. We are not in a kindergarden where we justify misbehaving because someone told us to misbehave. Given it seems Makropoulos might well have had FIDE cronies in place to scupper an independent and transparent investigation we may never know the full extent of his activities.
Positions of responsibility bring obligations. Makropoulos has not demonstrated that correct FIDE procedures were followed and if he is unable to do so then he should surely resign. So should those who knew about any misuse of monies at the time but remained quiet. One would have expected the running mates of Makropoulos to satisfy themselves that correct procedures were followed. Has Malcom Pein come out and confirmed in writing that he is satisfied FIDE procedures were followed to the letter? I have seen no such thing. The running mates of Makropoulos and the individuals who were aware of Makropoulos helping himself to FIDE money risk being tainted if they fail to do so.
The large body of evidence in respect of this scandal appears to support charges that not only were FIDE’s rules and regulations breached, but that the misappropriation of the cash could also be construed as illegal inducements under the UK Bribery Act 2010, as well as constituting theft/fraud in respect of FIDE funds.
These allegations are so serious – and run so central to the workings of FIDE and the morality of those involved in such payments – that it is unthinkable that the Ethics Committee might brush them off casually.
At very least, letters should be sent to the hospital where Makropoulos was treated, to identify the sender of the funds and what checks they did; to accountants Ernst & Young to ascertain where and how they accounted for the missing funds in the FIDE accounts; to the relevant FIDE executives involved in moving money in and out of FIDE accounts in relation to the issue; and to the FIDE bank UBS and the Swiss banking regulator to ask them to investigate the payments at hand. Should answers not add up, civil and criminal proceedings would then need to be considered against Makropoulos and his cohorts in the affair. Certainly Mr Nigel Freeman (who Mr Makropoulos has openly said knew about the payments) and those in the accounting and finance departments at FIDE who knew about the payments should eb asked to clarify why they remained silent. Alternatively, if they believe the FIDE constitution was
followed they should explain how.
But to do any of the above requires true impartiality, total integrity, and no fear of ruffling certain feathers in pursuit of the truth. And with the elections looming, with deals being cut and backs being scratched, it is clear that there is an overarching desire to brush the matter under the carpet, with truth a distant second in the tournament standings, and the prospect of dodgy business as usual continuing as a result, long into the reign of the next administration. It is hoped that the next administration will conduct a thorough and transparent investigation and hold those to account who may be found to have acted wrongly.