TOKYO – Iceland has approved a residency permit for Bobby Fischer (search), embassy officials said Thursday, but the former chess champion faces hurdles in traveling there because he remains in Japanese custody and lacks a valid passport.
Fischer is wanted in the United States on charges of violating international sanctions against Yugoslavia, and has been detained since July 13 in Tokyo where he has been fighting a deportation order to the United States.
It was not immediately clear if he would be able to travel to Iceland.
Fischer soared to fame when he defeated Boris Spassky (search) of the Soviet Union in a series of games in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972. The Cold War win made him the first U.S. world champion in more than a century.
Fischer applied last month for residency in Iceland, and his application was approved Wednesday, but it hasn't been decided when the permit would be handed over, said Maki Onjo, a commercial representative for the Iceland Embassy in Tokyo.
"The residency permit for Mr. Fischer was approved," Onjo said Thursday.
Fischer is accused of violating the sanctions when he played a rematch in Yugoslavia in 1992 against longtime rival Spassky. He won and took home $3.5 million in prize money.
He was taken into custody after being stopped at Tokyo's International airport trying to board a flight for the Philippines with an invalid passport. He has said U.S. officials revoked his passport without due process.
His lawyer Masako Suzuki welcomed Iceland's decision and said she planned to meet Fischer soon to discuss whether he would try to go to Iceland.
"The approval came out of the blue, but it's great news," Suzuki said, adding that a major problem is that he would have to travel without a passport.
Suzuki said she doubted Iceland's decision would immediately win Fischer's release, and said that if he were to travel there, he may have to go directly from his detention cell to the airport.
Immigration official Shoichiro Okabe said Fischer's travel to Iceland would be "legally possible," but faces many obstacles. Under the deportation order, he could choose to go to a third country only if the United States refuses him.
"Even if Iceland says he is welcome, Mr. Fischer can't simply go there just like that," he said.
Fischer's lawsuits against the Japanese government, including one against a deportation order, also could complicate the issue, Okabe said.
"If he drops the lawsuit, he could be immediately deported" to the United States, Okabe said.
The Tokyo District Court issued an injunction in September against Fischer's deportation order while judges hear his case.
Fischer has denounced the deportation order as politically motivated, his supporters say.
Fischer, who wants to renounce his U.S. citizenship, has applied for refugee status in Japan, and is also taking steps to marry a Japanese chess official, Miyoko Watai (search). His lawyers have requested his release, but a decision is still pending.