Thursday, March 09, 2006

(154) Into the Arena

I was very unhappy with the President of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), Mr Kirsan Ilyuzhiminov.

In mid September 1998 Nigel Short was quoted in The Sunday Telegraph as saying that regardless of uncertainties about him, including the provenance of the funds he was pouring in to chess, the current President was at least financing the game.

His predecessor, Florencio Campomanes, Short regarded as corrupt and also taking money out of it.
(In February 2003 a court in the Phillipines found Campomanes guilty of "failure to account for Government funds". These were $238,745 which the Phillipino Government had given to him to hand over to FIDE, but which he had failed to transfer.

He was sentenced to twenty-two months imprisonment.)

Sarah Hurst had publicised this unsatisfactory state of affairs in a series of articles which drew attention to the sad conditions in the autonomous Russian republic of Kalmykia, of which Ilyuzhiminov was also President.

On 7 June 1998 the Kalmykian journalist Larissa Yudina was knifed to death in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia. The killers were two of Kirsan Ilyuzhiminov’s former aides.

This was well known in the chess world.

A Dutch publication, Checkmate in Kalmykia by a renowned expert on Eastern European affairs, Martin van den Heuvel, shed some more light on it all, and added a few details - such as Ilyumzhinov's brother, Vyatsheslav, being present when the murder took place.

Larissa Yudina was the editor in chief of the newspaper Soviet Kalmykia, the only paper in Kalmykia to openly criticize Ilyumzhinov when he became President in 1993.

In 1994 Ilyumzhinov started his own paper, also named Soviet Kalmykia, and Yudina and her staff were thrown out of their building. Computers and a car were confiscated, Yudina was threatened by gun, and the front door of her house was set on fire.

She went on publishing her paper from her home, after a while changing the name to Soviet Kalmykia Today, but in 1995 it became a punishable offense to subscribe to or sell the paper, and copies of it were confiscated. The paper had to be printed outside Kalmykia, and was at one time sentenced to a fine of about $1,000,000 for an article that had appeared in it.

According to Gennadi Yudin, Yudina's husband, she got a telephone call offering her two million dollars for stopping her paper and leaving Kalmykia, "or else we will kill you."

On 6 June 1998 Yudina got a call from someone who said they had proof that an Ilyumzhinov organisation collected illegal funds for the building of ¨Chess City¨, the village where the 1998 Chess Olympiad was to be held. Yudina was summoned to a place where she would be handed documents proving Ilyumzhinov knew about this illegal fundraising.

She went with her husband, which clearly wasn't expected as the contact man tried to hide when they appeared. When the Yudin couple managed to approach him anyway, the man said he did not have the documents now, but would have them tomorrow.

The next evening, 7 June, Yudina got another call and now went alone. A little later, she was found in a nearby flat, stabbed to death.

The 1998 Chess Olympiad was to be held in Kalmykia in late September.
Some players had boycotted it, and Ms Hurst had advocated that the several British teams do the same.

I did not go that far. I just thought that somebody more reputable ought to be President of FIDE.

In September 1998 I even told her, and also some officials of the British Chess Federation, that if no other candidate came forward before the new Presidential elections that were to be held during the Olympiad, then I would be prepared to nominate myself in that role.

On a separate topic, when talking with her in the week before the Olympiad I also mentioned the idea of her using her excellent Russian to get work for a publishing company in London.
From my own experience in telesales I knew that there were potentially big earnings for sales people who spoke fluent Russian.
She made some noncommittal remarks in reply.

Two or three days before the English team flew out to Kalmykia I got a morning phone call from a telesales ex-colleague, with whom I had had no contact for a couple of years.
He is mentioned in Entry 118.

He had recently been on holiday in Canada and had played chess in city parks over there, which had put him in mind of myself. He also put on the line to me two new work colleagues, one from Georgia and one from Armenia. Each of them was not at all bad at chess.
I mentioned to the Georgian the name of one of the strongest players from his country, Zurab Azmaiparashvilli, and he replied that this man had been his coach!
The other knew one of the top Armenian Grandmasters personally.

I assumed he was calling from the offices of Intervisual Advertising, where we had worked together four years before.
But he explained that he now worked for another London company called Arena.
I had never heard of it.
He told me they specialised in publications on airlines in Chinese, Russian and Eastern European languages.

As I was going to be talking to Sarah Hurst anyway it struck me that it would be an idea to suggest to her that she might start working for this particular company. So I straight away rang her.

The ansafone was on, and I left no message, but a few moments later Tim Wall, with whom she was living, rang my number to see who it was that had called.

I said that I had rung to speak to Sarah, but he said that she had gone to do some work for a publishing company by whom she was occasionally employed to chase in payments and/or copy from Russian or ex-Soviet countries.

It was the very one I had called to tell her about: Arena.
She had now been promoted to Deputy Editor of three of their magazines.

My original remarks about ad sales had failed to register because at Arena, unlike most publishing houses, the editorial and sales sides of things were quite separate, so much so that they actually had two different Christmas parties.
Accordingly she had not made the connection.

In November 1999 two men, Sergey Vaskin and Vladimir Shanoyekov, were sentenced to twenty-one years in prison for the murder of Larissa Yudina. Their motives remained obscure.
A witness said the bank president, Darbakov, had been present when the murder was committed, but this was not used in court.

Members of the Kalmykian opposition found another witness who stated that not only Darbakov, but also Ilyumzhinov's brother, Vyatsheslav, had been present in the flat when Yudina was killed.
This testimony was not used in court either, and the witness died a little later in a car crash.

The Soviet Kalmykia Today, subsequently edited by Gennadi Yudin, as well as papers elsewhere, have named Darbakov and Vyatsheslav Ilyumzhinov as the organizers of Yudina's murder, without being sued by the Kalmykian authorities.

NB. Further to Entry 75, Tim and I also chatted about annotations to two recent games of mine which I had sent to him at The British Chess Magazine and which he had then published.

In one, which I played Vs John Shaw in Hawick 1998, the odd ending of (Shaw): two Bishops and a Rook Vs (Plaskett): a Queen, had occurred. It ended in a draw.

I had never seen it before, and it prompted me to remark to Tim that in 1991 I had played a game Vs David Okike in which another very rare Pawnless ending had occurred: two Knights and a Bishop Vs a Rook, and that in the same week as the celebrated Karpov Vs Kasparov example of this ending.

Commenting upon its rarity, I mentioned the only other example of it that I had heard of, which was the aforementioned Russian Grandmaster’s game from a decade or so earlier.

I said that I thought that I had heard that it was Vs the English player, Ward.

He then corrected me by saying that it was in fact Vs T. Wall.

He himself had been the defender in that game (which he lost).

NB. A further codicil developed in December 2009 when Sarah posted at Facebook -

Two of my friends from opposite ends of the country just friended the same person. How spooky is that? December 7, 2009 at 8:14pm.
Sarah Hurst
His name is Sam Katz in case you're wondering.

From my replies it emerged that she had gone out to Georgia in 1999 and stayed, by prior arrangement, in the family home of the very Georgian chap with whom I had spoken.

December 12, 2009 12:30am · Sarah Hurst
Your friend never mentioned chess to me. The Georgian arranged for me to stay with his family in Tbilisi (for a fee). I went there to write articles for Arena magazines but the company went bust owing me a lot of money when I got back. The Georgian's mother demanded additional money from me at the end of my stay, on top of what we'd agreed.
Dec 12 2009 1:05am H. James Plaskett
Now; are you saying you went to Georgia to stay at the family home of THE Georgian guy who spoke with me??
December 12, 2009 at 1:15am · Sarah Hurst Most likely it was the same Georgian guy as I think there was only one in ad sales at Arena.

December 12, 2009 at 1:28amH. James Plaskett Curiouser and curiouser...
I had no idea that you and this Georgian guy were or would become in any way connected?
Do you remheber his name or even the family name?

December 12, 2009 at 1:39am · Sarah Hurst I think his first name might have been something like Levon. You are right in saying that the ad sales dept. and editorial dept. were quite separate... but we frequently talked to the ad sales people so that they would know what articles we were planning and base their ad pitches around them... But it isn't that coincidental that I knew the Georgian, considering we both worked for the same magazines.
December 12 2009 4:03am H. James Plaskett Not that coincidental, no.
But ad sales and editorial are rather separate entities (I was told that at ARENA they had separate Xmas parties) and that you should go out to Tbilisi to stay in his family home is noteworthy.

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