The world governing body of chess says its financial dealings have been halted amid allegations that its president facilitated transactions on behalf of the Syrian government.
The Lausanne-based World Chess Federation (FIDE) disclosed on February 13 that Swiss bank UBS closed its accounts more than two years after the organization’s president, Russian millionaire Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, was added to a U.S. sanctions list.
In a letter dated February 12 and published online, FIDE treasurer Adrian Siegel said Ilyumzhinov’s “problems severely damaged FIDE's business activities and we have to look for a new banking connection."
UBS said that it does not comment "on whether individuals or organizations are clients of UBS" but that it follows "all laws and regulations that are applicable to us," according to The Telegraph.
Ilyumzhinov denied the accusations through his attorney, who called them "outrageous and false" and said he is "not aware that FIDE's bank accounts have been frozen by UBS."
"Mr. Ilyumzhinov believes that the allegations form part of an ongoing smear campaign related to a power struggle at FIDE in advance of elections taking place this year," London solicitor Nigel Kushner said in a statement.
In November 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department included Ilyumzhinov on its sanctions list targeting “networks providing support to the government of Syria, including for facilitating Syrian government oil purchases” from the extremist group Islamic State.
Ilyumzhinov has claimed he is the victim of a U.S.-led plot to topple him.
The flamboyant figure has been head of the World Chess Federation since 1995 but has become increasingly sidelined.
Last year, FIDE announced Ilyumzhinov had stepped down as its president before backtracking when he insisted it was "fake news" and that the organization was trying to "oust" him.
Ilyumzhinov was accused of oppressive rule during his 1993-2010 tenure as leader of Kalmykia, a region in southern Russia, and an aide was convicted of the 1998 murder of journalist Larisa Yudina.
He once claimed on television to have met aliens on board a spaceship.
With reporting by the BBC, Reuters, and The Telegraph