Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The mysterious case of the missing CAS case

There's a passage in Homage To Catalonia where Orwell is about to discuss party politics on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and he advises his readers that if they aren't interested, "please skip". This goes for today's column too. It's about the CAS case and the ECF. If you're not interested, that's cool - see you again on Friday.

If you're still here, I was reluctant to write about this again. Water under the bridge, reopening old wounds etc. But as the question came up, and as the role of international chess politics, Nigel Short and ECF palace intrigues continues to be controversial, it does, unfortunately, seem pertinent to establish what exactly did happen in 2011, and whether information was kept secret from ECF members as to what was being carried out in their name.

To recap. The CAS case was a legal case, financed by Garry Kasparov but nominally launched by the English and Georgian Chess Federations, in 2011, against FIDE's unconstitutional appointment of extra vice-presidents. ("Tshirt gate" refers to a variety of scandals arising from the conduct of the then ECF President, CJ de Mooi, at the British chess championships in Sheffield in July and August 2011, which continued to occupy the minds and time of ECF officials in subsequent months.)

The CAS case was launched in February 2011. The AGM referred to above took place on 15 October 2011. Although the existence of the case was made known at the meeting - by the FIDE delegate, Nigel Short - the fact of ECF involvement was not. This omission, on Short's part at least, cannot have been accidental.

When the ECF's involvement came to light, and hence the fact that ECF members had been left in the dark, then then CEO, Andrew Farthing, responded to the furore in a report1 which included the following explanation and apology.

"There was no intention to hide this matter from Council - it was genuinely overlooked." As you see, this is the same claim as is made at the top of today's piece.

It's one with which I've always struggled. In order to believe it, you have to believe that while Nigel Short was being quizzed on the ECF's relationship with FIDE, no ECF official thought to mention what Short had chosen to leave out.

But apparently they were "completely preoccupied by Tshirt gate".

OK. However, you also have to believe that there was no cause to mention it at the Finance Council meeting on 16 April 20112- when nobody's mind was "preoccupied by Tshirt gate" because it hadn't yet happened.

But apparently it was, nevertheless, "overlooked".

Ok. Perhaps you understand my scepticism. Still, you may feel, that doesn't prove anything.

But it is, I think, possible to prove that information was, in fact, deliberately hidden from ECF members.

Andrew Farthing produced a statement3 on the initiation of the case, which included a "Summary Time-line" explaining what decisions had been made and when. This is a detailed document from which the clipping below is taken.

You will note that this includes not only a reference to the minutes of an ECF Board meeting, on 26 February 2011, but a quote from those minutes.

Now as it happens, reports of Board meetings are available here. The meeting of 26 February 2011 is number 52 on the list4.

It includes various items, numbered 1-10. It includes no mention whatsoever of any discussion of the CAS case. Nor is there any suggestion that anything has been deleted.

This can only have occurred, surely, if there was a deliberate intention to withhold and hide this information. What alternative explanation can there be?

The document states "this report is a digest and summation of the decisions taken".

But not all of them, it transpires.

It also states "[this] is not an official ECF document". No. But it was presumably prepared by an ECF official.

Now, as I say, I was reluctant to return to this subject, given its potential for further rancour. Moreover I have no desire to get at Mike Gunn, whose reasons, I'll accept, are as he stated them.

But the claim that "there was no deliberate hiding of this decision" doesn't stand up. Not on this evidence. Somebody did, indeed, deliberately hide the evidence of this decision.

Somebody. But who? Who, when and why?

[1 See C16.5]
[2 Minutes available here]
[3 Statement on initiation of legal action in 2011]
[4 Screenshots have been taken of its entire content]

[Thanks to Angus French]
[Nigel Short index]


Anonymous said...

I thought the background was established if not admitted some while back. The reason the ECF was involved is that only Chess Federations can refer FIDE actions to CAS. Thus the sponsors of the action were acting on behalf of Kasparov who wished to prevent or at least highlight arbitrary powers of patronage being exercised by the FIDE President. His legal advisers thought it would prejudice the case if CAS became aware that an individual or a company controlled by an individual was financing the action. Hence the ECF was sworn to secrecy, which is why it isn't even hinted at in the summaries of Board meetings.

The ECF was pursuing its low standing objective to help remove Kirsan as FIDE President, but went badly wrong with this particular tactic, which shows bad judgement from the Board. Ironically the one director who opposed the action had as much to do with anyone about the success of the cover-up. The odd hint or semi-leak might have enabled someone to ask an innocent question about what happened to the ECF's originally public protest about Vice-Presidents.


ejh said...

I thought the background was established if not admitted some while back.

Me too, but we do still seem to be lacking the "admitted".

In general, this kind of thing is why I'm against secrecy in ECF affairs and allowing FIDE politics to influence ECF actions. It always seems to end in sensible people doing silly things and people who I like doing things that I don't.

Mike G said...

When it comes to conspiracy theories I have to say that I am a fan of the long dead political commentator Alan Watkins who once wrote in his New Statesman column that if there are two contending theories to explain historical events: a conspiracy theory and a cock-up theory, then it is the cock-up version that is true the vast majority of the time. This certainly corresponds with my own experience.

Normally I wouldn't support legal action against anyone in the chess world on the basis that such actions end up doing little except lining the pockets of lawyers, but the board was presented with two fairly crushing arguments:

1. We couldn't possibly lose the action because the breach of FIDE statutes was so blatant.

2. The ECF was completely free of any costs arising from this action, even if something went wrong with it.

(OK, in retrospect these arguments were not so great, but at the time most of us were convinced. At the time I believed that the ECF would be seen as heroes for playing a significant part in removing Kirsan from office).

The next thing to appreciate (which I can understand may fuel conspiracy theories) is that before publication on the website certain items are redacted/ removed from the minutes. In my time this was done in a very democratic way - the actual things removed were discussed by the whole board (and this explains partly why the minutes are often a bit slow to appear). The usual reasons for removing things are to respect the privacy of individuals, to avoid legal action (possible libels) and occasionally commercial sensitivity.

There was no way that the ECF taking legal action was ever going to be kept secret, but right at the start we weren't going to announce what we were doing until the lawyers had actually initiated the action. (Hello, we are about to stab you in the back, but it will take us a few months to get the knife ready.) I can see why this can be regarded as a bit of a democratic deficit, but do you tell your opponent your moves in advance?

PS I stopped reading the New Statesman when they stopped the (excellent) Tony Miles column.

ejh said...

I can see why this can be regarded as a bit of a democratic deficit

Well of course, and that's because it is, but the real point is that it subsequently involved a lot of telling people things that they could tell weren't likely to be true, long after any point where that could possibly have served any useful purpose. No?

Mike G said...

The fact that the ECF was a party to the legal action was ALWAYS going to emerge once the action started. Therefore there was no reason not to tell this to the ECF membership (as upposed to giving Kirsan early warning of the action). Therefore I simply cannot understand the conspiracy theory idea ... why would we conspire to hide something which was everybody was going to know anyway?

The main business of the April Council is finance and the Board meetings immediately preceeding are largely concerned with the accounts and budget proposals. I must admit I haven't looked back at any emails/ documents from that time but I'm sure there was plenty of other things occupying our discussions. There were probably some big row going on at the time (there usually was).

Anonymous said...

Kasparov's legal team wanted the involvement of Kasparov not to be disclosed to CAS if it could have been avoided, or at least that was the story told to explain away the secrecy. The action on Vice-Presidents started out being public back in October 2010. When FIDE rejected the original complaint, presumably by December and January, the logical next stage would for the ECF to complain in public and threaten the use of CAS if not satisfied with FIDE's response.

Given that the ECF had no money, once it started making legal threats, the obvious response would have been "who is paying". As this had to be kept quiet, so did the threat or even execution of legal action.


ejh said...

why would we conspire to hide something which was everybody was going to know anyway?

Sorry - are you still claiming that nobody took any decision to hide this from the members? Even though this posting comprehensively proves otherwise?

Mike G said...

According to my memory (apart from the occasional query as to what was happening - and the answer was always: nothing yet) the Board didn't discuss the CAS case after the original decision to go ahead was taken.

The Board discusses/ finalises the agenda for Council meetings and (again, to the best of my memory) nobody on the Board mentioned the CAS case either saying we must remember to tell the members (or) we can't tell them yet in relation to those agenda. We simply forgot to do so and I can't see that anything you have produced proves otherwise.

However difficult it is for you to believe, it really was a cock-up, not a conspiracy!

ejh said...

So explain to me - how come it is missing from the Meeting 52 report?

Mike G said...

I have now looked back the minutes of the Board meetings and also email correspondence with other Board members between February and April 2011. Firstly I should say that nothing I found there contradicts anything in Andrew Farthing's report.

To answer your question, the Board minutes circulated to the Board are considerably longer than the version published on the website. At that time Andrew was acting as minutes secretary (in addition to being CEO) and it was his habit to record contributions to discussions as well as decisions taken. A whole tranche of administrative stuff (actions on members of the Board and matters relating to individuals being considered for honours) has also been removed along with the paragraph about the CAS action. No decision was taken the CAS action then, pending investigation of how we could be sure we would be idemnified from any costs.

Subsequently (when we had received clarification on that point) the vote on taking the CAS action was taken by email. There was no further board meeting between then and the morning of the Council meeting in April so (apart from any other considerations) there was no formal opportunity before then to place the item on the Council agenda. (Of course a verbal report could have been given.)

Later when we acquired a new minutes secretary (and I took over overall responsibility for the minutes) we moved to a briefer,less discursive style of minutes where less material was removed before publishing them.

So, why was this item not recorded in the published minutes? I think there were two reasons:

1. No decision had been taken at that stage.

2. Giving an indication of what we were about to do could have warned Kirsan what was coming.

ejh said...

So it was deliberately left out, yes? And so ECF members looking at that report would have had no inkling that this business was occurring, would they? Because there was no way of hiding it from Kirsan without also hiding it from ECF members, correct? And all this is a statement of the obvious, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

The context is that ECF members first found out about the legal action in a report of a FIDE Board Meeting where Kirsan complained about actions taken by the Chess Federations of Britain and Georgia. Chess Scotland rapidly confirmed that it was nothing to do with them, but an official response from the ECF took several months to elicit. To be fair, there was an almost immediate unofficial confirmation from one of the non-Execs.