Collapse of Yugoslav bank places Fischer's chess winnings in check

March 18, 1993|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Contributing Writer

BELGRADE -- Bobby Fischer may have been rooked here in a way that's not in the chess books.

The word is that the former world chess champion, who defied U.N. sanctions against Yugoslavia to take part in a $5 million rematch against Boris Spassky, may have lost a lot of his winnings in the collapse of Belgrade's Jugoskandic bank last week.

Jezdimir Vasiljevic, the flamboyant financier who bankrolled the controversial rematch here, has skipped town to Israel. The Jugoskandic bank, of which he is president, and where much of Mr. Fischer's prize money was supposed to have been held, is practically out of business.

Since Mr. Vasiljevic unexpectedly fled last week, the collapse of his bank has threatened to bring the rump Yugoslavia's whole economy crashing down. Depositors have been besieging his banks, which had been paying them unbelievable interest rates: 200 percent a month on Yugoslav dinar accounts, 15 percent per month on foreign currency.

An official of the bank has stated that the institution cannot meet its obligations.

The 49-year-old Mr. Fischer would not answer questions about the reports circulating here that he was one of Jugoskandic's largest depositors. "Mr. Bobby does not talk to journalists," his spokesman said.

Banking sources here said that Mr. Fischer has received the advance payment of $1 million for the rematch last summer and that those funds are deposited outside Yugoslavia. However, according to the bank sources, the $3.4 million Mr. Fischer was to collect after defeating Mr. Spassky was kept in a high-interest account at Jugoskandic.

The temperamental and occasionally provocative chess master has been living in a hotel in Belgrade.

A spokesman for Intercontinental Hotel, where Mr. Fischer has been living since last summer, said the reclusive American's expenses have been paid by Jugoskandic bank transfers. Immediately after Mr. Vasiljevic's escape, the hotel management advised Mr. Fischer that it would require cash payments in the future, according to the spokesman.

The chess champion is unlikely to return to the United States any time soon. He faces criminal and civil charges that carry maximum penalty of ten years in jail and a $250,000 fine for violating the U.N. embargo against Yugoslavia by participating in a profitable venture here.

Mr. Spassky, now a naturalized French citizen, was not banned from the match by France.

Although not recognized by the World Chess Federation, the match was a major propaganda coup for the Serbs seeking to break out of international isolation.

Before it began last September, Mr. Fischer was officially urged by the U.S. Treasury Department to withdraw from the competition because accepting the prize money would breach U.N. sanctions. Mr. Fischer, however, rejected the U.S. warning by publicly spitting on the Treasury letter during a news conference.

The Fischer-Spassky match was a repeat of their 1972 championship tournament in Iceland, when Mr. Fischer won the world crown. He lost it three years later when he refused to play another Russian grandmaster, Anatoly Karpov and has lived in seclusion ever since.

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