NAGOYA, Japan, March 24 -- Bobby Fischer, the chess legend who feared deportation to face charges in the United States, was freed Thursday by Japanese authorities after eight months in prison, the Justice Ministry said. He left immediately for the airport to fly to Iceland.
The deal to free Fischer came after Iceland -- a chess-loving nation that hosted his historic Cold War-era victory over the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in 1972 -- granted Fischer citizenship this week in a move to help him avoid trial in the United States. Fischer, 62, who grew up in New York, has dodged a U.S. arrest warrant since playing a chess match in Yugoslavia in 1992 in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Bobby Fischer at the airport as he prepares to leave Japan.
Fischer left a detention center on the outskirts of Tokyo accompanied by Miyoko Watai, a women's chess champion in Japan, and an Icelandic official, news services reported. "I won't be free until I get out of Japan. This was not an arrest. It was a kidnapping cooked up by Bush and Koizumi," the Associated Press quoted him as saying at the airport, referring to President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. His flight left soon afterward.
Fischer evaded U.S. authorities for more than a decade with the help of chess fans from Argentina to the Philippines, who offered him shelter even as he stepped into public view on occasion to offer scathing anti-American and anti-Jewish rants. He was finally nabbed in July at an airport outside Tokyo for traveling on a voided U.S. passport.
Fischer's violation of U.S. sanctions was not considered an extraditable offense in Japan. American authorities instead had counted on Japanese laws mandating deportation of persons detained for traveling on false documents to their countries of citizenship.
Fischer had tried various maneuvers to block his return, including seeking refugee status, renouncing his U.S. citizenship and announcing plans to marry Watai.
But he found success in Iceland, where, at his request, the parliament honored his "historic connection" with the tiny island nation, voting 40 to 0 Monday to grant him citizenship. The move came despite U.S. protests. "Mr. Fischer is a true Icelander now," the country's ambassador to Japan, Thordur Oskarsson, told reporters in Tokyo.
Japan agreed to allow Fischer to travel to his adopted homeland as long as he withdrew a lawsuit against the Japanese government seeking to block his deportation. John Bosnitch of the Tokyo-based Committee to Free Bobby Fischer said Wednesday that Fischer would do so.
The case had become an irritation for Japan, with Fischer alleging -- falsely, according to the Japanese -- that he had been physically abused by his captors. A Japanese official familiar with the case said the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo had been informed that Fischer would be freed.
Fischer's deep resentment of the United States is well known. He has said he regards it as part of the "global Jewish conspiracy," despite the fact that his mother was Jewish. He had insisted that U.S. officials were persecuting him for his political beliefs.
U.S. officials have suggested they may file tax evasion charges against Fischer, who has said he has not paid U.S. taxes in years. Such charges, U.S. officials say, may fall under extraditable crimes in Iceland.