Friday, March 18, 2005

Fischer Gets Initial OK for Citizenship


(AP) Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Japan's Social Democratic Party, speaks to a reporter outside Justice...
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REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) - American chess genius Bobby Fischer took the advantage Friday in his latest move to avoid deportation to the United States, as an Icelandic committee agreed to send his request for citizenship to parliament for a vote.

Fischer, an erratic personality who is wanted in the United States on charges of violating international sanctions against the former Yugoslavia, has been in Japanese custody since his July 13 detention while trying to board a flight with an invalid passport.

That provoked a series of efforts by the 62-year-old chess legend and determined supporters to fight a deportation order to the United States.

A parliamentary committee in Iceland on Friday approved a measure to grant citizenship to Fischer, sending it to the 63-member Althingi for a vote next week.

'The matter has been finished,' said Gudrun Oegmundsdottir, a member the General Committee. 'It will now go before the parliament on Monday for the vote.'

There is widespread support for Fischer in Iceland, where he played the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in a world championship match in 1972, and parliament is expected to approve the measure.

The Japanese government had no immediate official reaction. But Saemundur Palsson, one of Fischer's supporters in Iceland, claimed Japan had confirmed it would allow him to go to Iceland if citizenship was granted.

Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Japan's Social Democratic Party, speaks to a reporter outside Justice Ministry in Tokyo Wednesday, March 16, 2005. Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Japan's opposition Social Democratic Party, said senior immigration officials told her that Fischer would be allowed to go to Iceland if he is given citizenship there.

'This is great news,' Palsson said. 'They had been waiting on confirmation from Japan that Fischer would be let go if he had Icelandic citizenship. This arrived to me this morning.'

Fischer became an icon when he dethroned Spassky in a series of games in Reykjavik to claim America's first world chess championship in more than a century. But a few years later he forfeited the title to another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, when he refused to defend it. He then fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play an exhibition rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

Fischer won the rematch on the resort island of Sveti Stefan. But the victory came with a high price - It was played in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed to punish then-President Slobodan Milosevic. If convicted, Fischer, who hasn't been to the United States since then, could face 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Fischer also has emerged from silence in radio broadcasts and on his Web page to express anti-Semitic views and rail against the United States.

Fischer has repeatedly denounced the U.S. deportation order as politically motivated, demanded refugee status, renounced his U.S. citizenship and said he wants to become a German national instead. He also has applied to marry Mikyoko Watai, head of the Japan Chess Association.

A federal grand jury in Washington, meanwhile, is investigating possible money-laundering charges involving Fischer, Richard J. Vattuone, one of his lawyers said this month.

Fischer was reported to have received $3.5 million from the competition in the former Yugoslavia. He boasted at the time that he didn't intend to pay any income tax on the money.

Vattuone, who has been working to secure Fischer's release from the Japanese detention center, said he believes U.S. prosecutors are now exploring money laundering and tax charges in an attempt to extradite Fischer eventually from Iceland or Japan.

Iceland's parliament voted last month against granting Fischer citizenship, offering him a special foreigners' passport and residence permit instead. But Japanese officials declined to release him. Supporters are hoping the offer of citizenship will resolve the standoff over his status."

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