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Thursday, March 24, 2005
Fischer headed to Iceland but not home free

Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Chess legend Bobby Fischer walked free from a Japanese detention center Thursday and flew to Copenhagen en route to his new home in exile -- Iceland -- following Tokyo's nine-month fight to deport him to the United States.

Before leaving Japan, however, the 62-year-old eccentric genius offered a few parting shots at President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whom he accused of "kidnapping."

"This was not an arrest. It was a kidnapping cooked up by Bush and Koizumi," Fischer said at the airport in Japan.

"They are war criminals and should be hung," he said in an apparent criticism of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Fischer, the first passenger to emerge after his flight landed in the Danish capital for a brief layover, did not even glance at a crowd of reporters.

Two police officers ushered him and his fiancee, Miyoko Watai -- the head of Japan's chess association -- down a staircase and into an unmarked van. They were set to board another flight to the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, later Thursday.

Japanese officials took him into custody in July, when he tried to leave the country using an invalid U.S. passport.

Fischer, who has been held in detention since his arrest, claims his U.S. passport was revoked illegally and sued to block a deportation order to the United States, where he is wanted for violating sanctions imposed on the former Yugoslavia by playing an exhibition match against Russian Boris Spassky in 1992.

"This was a kidnapping because the charges that the Japanese charged me with are totally nonsense," Fischer told an Associated Press Television News reporter on the flight to Copenhagen.

"My passport was perfectly good," Fischer insisted, sipping on a glass of liqueur in the first-class cabin.

This week, Iceland's Parliament stepped in to break the standoff, giving Fischer citizenship. Iceland is where he won the world championship in 1972, defeating Spassky in a classic Cold War showdown that propelled him to international stardom.

Moving to Iceland doesn't necessarily mean Fischer has beaten Washington's effort to prosecute him. Iceland, like Japan, has an extradition treaty with Washington.

Fischer, with a long white beard and wearing jeans and a baseball cap, was characteristically defiant as he left the immigration detention center on Tokyo's outskirts and headed to the airport.

As he walked toward the airport entrance, he turned, unzipped his pants and acted like he was going to urinate on the wall. He called Japan's ruling party "gangsters," and said he was being hounded by the United States because it is "Jew-controlled."

The comment echoes anti-Semitic views expressed in recent years on the chess master's Web page, although Fischer's mother was Jewish.

A federal grand jury in Washington, meanwhile, is reportedly investigating possible money-laundering charges involving Fischer, and he may face tax-related charges. Fischer was reported to have received $3.5 million from the competition in the former Yugoslavia and boasted then that he didn't intend to pay any income tax on the money.

Iceland's ambassador to Japan, Thordur Oskarsson, said before Fischer's release that Washington sent a "message of disappointment" to the Icelandic government over giving Fischer citizenship.

"Despite the message, the decision was put through Parliament on humanitarian grounds," Oskarsson said.

In Washington on Tuesday, the State Department said it had officially asked Japan to hand over Fischer.

"Mr. Fischer is a fugitive from justice. There is a federal warrant for his arrest," said Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman for the State Department.

Japan's top government spokesman, Hiroyuki Hosoda, told reporters after Fischer's release that he believed "there is no problem" in Tokyo's handling of the case.

Tokyo initially refused Fischer's request to go to Iceland, saying Japanese law allowed his deportation only to the country of his origin. But following Iceland's decision on Monday, Japanese Justice Minister Chieko Nono said officials would consider letting Fischer go there.

Fischer had sued Japanese officials to prevent them from deporting him, and his lawsuit stalled the process long enough for him to win a passport from Iceland.

Fischer became a chess icon when he dethroned Spassky in the series of games in Iceland, claiming the United States' first world chess championship in more than a century.

But he gave up the title a few years later to another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, by refusing to defend it. He then fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play the 1992 exhibition rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia.

Fischer won the rematch. But his playing violated 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 $250,000 fine.