MOSCOW -- He's been abducted by aliens, he claims, and has built a grandiose "city" dedicated to chess. Now eccentric Russian politician and international chess mogul Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has an ambitious new plan: Sue the United States for $50 billion over sanctions and use the proceeds to promote democracy in America.
Ilyumzhinov was forced to recuse himself from "any legal, financial, and business operations" of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), which he has led since 1995, after the United States imposed sanctions -- barring U.S. citizens from doing business with him and freezing any assets he holds in the United States -- as punishment for his alleged support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The longtime former governor of Russia’s Kalmykia region has bristled at the sanctions, which complicated his efforts to organize the November 2016 world chess championship in the United States. In an interview published by the pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia on December 17, he said he would file a $50 billion defamation suit against the United States.
Ilyumzhinov did not describe details of the planned lawsuit but said he would use proceeds to launch a democracy promotion foundation in the United States, along the lines of those established by U.S. billionaire philanthropist George Soros in several former Soviet republics and satellites.
“I’m ready not only to create a foundation to support democratic processes in the U.S.A., but also to head it. In his time, George Soros opened such a foundation for supporting educational programs in the Soviet Union,” wrote Ilyumzhinov.
Foundations linked to Soros have been branded “undesirable organizations” in Russia, and officials including President Vladimir Putin have accused the United States of using civil-society groups to foment revolution. The Kremlin also reacts angrily to U.S. criticism of Russia’s human rights record and contends that the United States is no better.
Several prominent figures would be invited to develop the foundation, Ilyumzhinov said. The eclectic invite list includes Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, and the Dalai Lama, he said, while action movie actor Steven Seagal -- a friend and fan of Putin -- could be made an “honorary member.”
Ilyumzhinov told Izvestia his lawyers decided on the figure of $50 billion because it “corresponds to the authority of the organization he heads” and that the suit will be filed against the U.S. Treasury Department.
The U.S. Treasury Department said on November 25 that Ilyumzhinov was involved in “materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of Assad’s government.”
Ilyumzhinov, who met with Assad in Damascus in April 2012 -- a year into the civil war that started with a crackdown on Assad’s pro-democracy opponents -- denies the allegation.
Backed by the Kremlin, Ilyumzhinov has headed FIDE for 20 years, fending off rival challengers to the post such as chess great Garry Kasparov, who lost in a bitter election for the presidency last year.
But Ilyumzhinov is perhaps best known for his eccentric claims about aliens and his cordial relationships with now-deceased dictators such as Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein.
In 2010, Ilyumzhinov claimed on Russian television that he was once abducted by aliens and that chess was brought to Earth by extraterrestrials.
His pronouncements have drawn attention away from some of the grittier accusations against him -- that he was involved in corruption and murky dealings as leader of Kalmykia, a poor region in southern Russia, from 1993 to 2010. He has denied those accusations.