Garry Kasparov, the former chess world champion, announced in October that he was running for president of the World Chess Federation, the game's governing body. He also announced a slate of candidates who were his nominees to lead the organization in various geographic regions.
The nominees included Ignatius Leong in Asia, a surprising choice considering Leong, who lives in Singapore, is the general secretary of the federation under its longtime president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is running for re-election. In effect, Leong was switching sides.
The motivation might have been money.
Two months earlier, Kasparov and Leong negotiated a deal in which Leong would help Kasparov's presidential run in exchange for $500,000, according to a draft contract reviewed by The New York Times. Kasparov also agreed, after his election, to open a new federation office in Singapore, to be run by Leong, for which he would be paid an undisclosed amount.
The contract was drafted by Morten Sand, a Norwegian lawyer working for Kasparov on his campaign. He confirmed its authenticity in an email to The Times and said the draft was superseded by another contract in which "the parties had agreed that all financial support was given with the explicit purpose of chess development and programs. No money was going to individuals." Sand emphasized this point again on Tuesday in a letter posted on Kasparov's election website after The Times inquired about the draft contract.
The draft contract also said that in return for Leong's support, the Kasparov Chess Foundation, which is based in New York, would pay the Asean Chess Academy, an organization founded and owned by Leong for teaching children, $250,000 a year for four years, beginning in 2013, though the agreement would be void if Kasparov was not elected.
The Kasparov Chess Foundation also agreed to open an academy in Asia, in cooperation with Leong's academy, in November 2013.
Leong was to be "responsible for delivering 10 + 1 vote from his region, with the effort to deliver 15 votes (not counting China)," the draft contract said. Leong was also to "secure 5 + 1 endorsements (signed proxies)" for Kasparov's election.
Mig Greengard, a spokesman for Kasparov, declined to comment about the draft contract, but said the new agreement between Kasparov and Leong would be released Friday. Leong could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
In the federation, each country, regardless of size or membership, has one vote. Voters can also designate others to vote for them through the use of proxies - a practice that Kasparov has criticized in the past, particularly in the last election, in 2010, when Anatoly Karpov, the former world champion and Kasparov's former nemesis, ran against Ilyumzhinov. Kasparov assisted Karpov in his campaign.
In that election, Ilyumzhinov, who has been president of the federation since 1995, defeated Karpov, 95-55. Much of Ilyumzhinov's support came from Asia and Africa, and many votes were cast by proxies.
When Kasparov announced his candidacy in October, he said that previous elections "were not transparent." He also said, "I have resources that can help me to run a global campaign."
Among the members of Kasparov's team running for office are Rex Sinquefield, a retired businessman from St. Louis who is Kasparov's nominee to lead the federation's organization in the Western Hemisphere. Sinquefield has become the biggest benefactor of chess in the U.S. in recent years, and has sponsored the U.S. Championship.
Sheik Mohammed bin Ahmed al-Hamed of the United Arab Emirates, who owns a number of hotels and other real estate projects, is also a part of Kasparov's proposed governing committee.
Charges of corruption, bribery and vote buying have been rumored in the federation for decades, ever since Ilyumzhinov's predecessor, Florencio Campomanes, a Philippines chess official, was elected federation president in 1982. Campomanes was convicted by a Philippine court in 2003 of failing to account for how almost 13 million Philippine pesos (about $240,000) had been spent organizing the 1992 Chess Olympiad in Manila. The conviction was overturned after a higher court ruled that Philippine law did not apply to the federation, since it was based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Before Campomanes abruptly resigned as president in 1995, he helped get Ilyumzhinov elected.
Ilyumzhinov was, by any measure, a strange choice. He was a businessman who was born in Kalmykia, an impoverished Russian republic on the Caspian Sea, and amassed a fortune after the fall of the Soviet Union, though exactly how and how much are something of a mystery. He was largely unknown within the chess world, though he had been elected president of Kalmykia in 1993, at age 31. He stepped down from that presidency in 2010.
Ilyumzhinov is well known for his eccentricities. He has said that he believes the game was invented by extraterrestrials, and he claims to have been abducted by aliens in yellow spacesuits on the night of Sept. 17, 1997. He built Chess City, a huge glass dome surrounded by a housing development, in Kalmykia's obscure and inaccessible capital, Elista, and had the federation hold championship tournaments there.
In June 2011, at the height of the civil war in Libya, Ilyumzhinov appeared in Tripoli to meet with an old friend, Moammar Gadhafi, ostensibly to discuss opportunities for developing chess programs in the country. The men played a game of chess for the cameras. It was the last time Gadhafi was seen alive in public before he was captured and killed four months later.
In an interview in October, Ilyumzhinov said that he also visited President Bashar Assad of Syria in August 2012, after the civil war there had started, once again to ostensibly talk about chess development opportunities. Ilyumzhinov said that he did not believe that Assad's regime had chemical weapons or had used them.
Despite his oddities, Ilyumzhinov has had no trouble hanging on to the federation presidency.
Maxim Dlugy, a businessman and former world junior champion, who assisted Karpov on his 2010 campaign but has no role in Kasparov's campaign, said that he had been told by Alexei Orlov, Ilyumzhinov's successor as president of Kalmykia, that Ilyumzhinov spent as much as $7 million courting voters in the 2010 election.
For his part, Ilyumzhinov did not seem particularly upset by Leong's defection. In the interview in October, he said: "I cannot say bad words against Leong. For me, it was not a big surprise."
© 2014 New York Times News Service