RIGA - The governor of a southern Russian region, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, on a state visit to Latvia has expressed interest in investing in and building a chess game room and hotel in Riga.
The pledge came during a meeting with Riga City Council deputy Janis Dinevics, the council's sports department head Karlis Villeruss and World Chess Federation Baltic representative Aris Ozolins.
The officials discussed different ways to popularize chess in Riga.
Ilyumzhinov, a chess fanatic, is the president of the autonomous Russian republic of Kalmykia, as well as the president of the World Chess Federation.
"The architecture could be made to represent chess pieces," he said. "It would be in the form of a 'chess Disneyland,' where children and youths could meaningfully spend their time."
The proposal included not only the chess game room, but also a three star hotel that could serve as a place for chess players to stay while visiting Riga.
Ilyumzhinov did not, however, offer a specific amount of money for the proposed project.
The governor promoted the hotel as part of his global chess project in which Riga is taking part.
Riga City Council's deputy responded with enthusiasm to the idea since it represents a significant Russian investment in the city. "From my point of view, this is a great proposal. Riga City Council needs to support it," Dinevics said.
City Council spokeswoman Laura Klavina said that Dinevics was "pleasantly surprised by the offer" but that there would be much more work to do before the project could become a reality. She cited the need to find a proper location for the proposed venue.
Ilyumzhinov is one of the richest and most eccentric regional leaders in Russia. He has been repeatedly criticised both for human rights violations as president of Kalmykia, which is heavily populated by followers of Buddhism, and for mismanagement of the World Chess Federation. He came under heavy fire for his organization of the 2004 World Chess Championships, which excluded people of the Jewish faith.
Among his other eccentricities, Ilyumzhinov claims to have been abducted by aliens during a business trip to Moscow. He went on to use his alleged abduction as one of his main campaign platforms during his election, along with the campaign slogan "a wealthy president is a safeguard against corruption." Shortly after his victory, he was accused of widespread corruption.
Ilyumzhinov also claims to run his republic through the use of telepathic energy. "Irrespective of what I tell people, I give them instructions on a sub-conscious level, a code. I do the same thing when I communicate with Russian citizens from other regions. I am creating around the republic a kind of extra-sensory field and it helps us a lot in our projects," the Kalmykian president told the Russian press after his election as governor.
Ilyumzhinov is also a relative of the wife of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Yelena Baturina, who is considered to be a billionaire and Russia's richest woman. Luzhkov is on friendly terms with Latvian authorities and was instrumental in erecting the Moscow House on Caks Street in downtown Riga.