Japan is processing former world chess champion Bobby Fischer, wanted in the US for defying a US ban on doing business with Yugoslavia, for deportation, a Japanese official said yesterday.
But the official declined to comment on a report that Fischer, 61, the only US citizen ever to become world chess champion and regarded as possibly the world's greatest player, was seeking political asylum in a third country.
"We are in the midst of the procedures for deportation," the official said, adding he could not estimate how long the process would take.
"In principle, a person is deported to the country of his nationality but in some cases it could be a third country," the official said.
The Web site ChessBase.com reported that Fischer was appealing for help in the form of an immediate offer of asylum from a friendly third country through his friend Miyoko Watai, head of the Japan Chess Association.
Watai could not immediately be reached for comment.
The chess grandmaster has eluded the US government since 1992, when he played in a match in the former Yugoslavia. That move brought him into conflict with the US authorities since economic sanctions against Yugoslavia were in force at the time.
If sent to the US, Fischer could face prison and a fine.
Fischer was detained at Tokyo airport last week. He was suspected of holding an invalid passport when he tried to leave for the Philippines, Kyodo news agency said.
A US embassy spokesman on Tuesday declined to comment on whether Washington would seek Fischer's extradition. But he denied that there was any link -- as some media have speculated -- between Fischer's detention and Japan's request for special treatment for former US army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins, who Washington says deserted in 1965 to North Korea.
Jenkins, who married a Japanese woman abducted to the secretive communist state in 1978, was brought to Japan for medical treatment on Sunday. Tokyo is asking Washington not to seek to take him into custody to face court martial.
Mystery and controversy have surrounded one of the great eccentrics of the chess profession throughout his career.
Fischer took the world chess title in 1972 by beating Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in a match considered something of a Cold War propaganda victory for the US, since chess had been dominated by Soviet players since World War II.
What was billed as the "Match of the Century" took place in Reykjavik, Iceland, and brought chess tremendous publicity in the US, making Fischer an instant celebrity.
In 1975, Fischer resigned his title after a number of his conditions for a match against Anatoly Karpov, also of the Soviet Union, were refused by chess officials.
Karpov became champion by default.
Fischer disappeared from sight until the 1992 match, again against Spassky. He won, taking US$3 million in prize money. He stirred controversy with numerous anti-Semitic remarks over the years. His mother was Jewish.
He then disappeared again, resurfacing after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US to give an interview on Philippine radio in which he praised the strikes and said he wanted to see the US "wiped out."
ChessBase.com said Fischer had avoided arrest by remaining abroad in Hungary, the Philippines and Japan, but that his US passport had been revoked in December of last year.
The Web site said he had last entered Japan on April 15.
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