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Ex-Chess Champion Bobby Fischer Detained

Fugitive Held in Japan on Charges Stemming From '92 Spassky Match in Yugoslavia

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2004; Page A04

The hunt for Bobby Fischer, the unpredictable chess legend, ended this week when he was detained in Japan, where he awaits possible deportation on charges that he attended a 1992 match in Yugoslavia in violation of a U.S. ban.

The Japanese Immigration Bureau detained the 61-year-old Fischer on Tuesday at Narita International Airport in Tokyo at the urging of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which had recently stepped up efforts to track the fugitive, U.S. authorities said yesterday.

Bobby Fischer, shown in a 1996 photo, awaits deportation in Japan. (Daniel Muzio -- AP)

"He's in custody in Japan, and we are awaiting a determination whether he'll be deported back to the United States to face charges," said Allan Doody, special agent in charge of the immigration agency's Washington field office.

The arrest capped a cat-and-mouse game between U.S. authorities and Fischer, who shuttled among several nations, including Japan, the Philippines and Hungary, to avoid arrest. A grand jury in Washington charged him with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by going to Yugoslavia for the chess match against Boris Spassky.

The charge, handed up in 1992, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

U.S. authorities, acting on the outstanding warrant, recently canceled Fischer's U.S. passport after discovering that he had a 90-day visa to visit Japan. Authorities there detained him at the airport for failing to possess valid travel documents, U.S. authorities said.

In August 1992, the Treasury Department sent Fischer a letter warning him not to go to Yugoslavia to play Spassky for the world class chess match. It explained that U.S. citizens were forbidden to get involved in "business or commercial activities" with Yugoslavia because of its role in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"We consider your presence in Yugoslavia for this purpose to be an exportation of services to Yugoslavia in the sense that the Yugoslav sponsor is benefiting from the use of your name and reputation," the letter said.

Fischer ignored the letter and headed off to Yugoslavia to square off against Spassky. Fischer had surrendered the world championship in 1975 after he refused to defend it against Anatoly Karpov of Russia.

At a news conference in Yugoslavia in September 1992, Fischer held up the letter and spit on it. He went on to beat Spassky and receive $3.3 million.

In subsequent interviews overseas, Fischer said he no longer played the "old chess." In 1996, he launched his own form of chess, Fischerandom Chess, in which the major pieces are arranged on a traditional board in an unorthodox way.

Fischer, whose mother is Jewish, became well known for his ranting and raving and anti-Semitic remarks.

In a radio interview May 24, 1999, in Baguio, the Philippines, Fischer remarked: "America is totally under control of the Jews, you know. I mean, look what they're doing now in Yugoslavia. . . . The secretary of state and the secretary of defense are, are dirty Jews."

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Fischer remarked on Philippine radio: "This is all wonderful news. It's time . . . to finish off the U.S. once and for all. . . . This just shows what comes around, goes around."

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