Former world chess champion Bobby Fischer was released from detention in Japan on Thursday, allowing him to avoid deportation to the United States and head for Iceland, which has granted him citizenship.
It was the end of an eight-month saga that began when Fischer, 62, was taken into custody in Japan last July for travelling on what U.S. officials said was an invalid passport.
He could have faced prison and fines in the United States, where he is wanted for violating sanctions against the former Yugoslavia by playing a chess match there in 1992.
The United States has said it was disappointed at Iceland's decision to grant Fischer citizenship and had reiterated that it wanted him to be handed over.
Fischer sprang to fame when he won the world title in a classic Cold War encounter with Soviet champion Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972.
The chess icon, who had grown a long white beard in custody and wore a dark baseball cap pulled low, was released from a detention centre in Ushiku, northeast of Tokyo, and taken in an Icelandic embassy car to Narita airport.
Fischer, clad in a striped sweater and jeans, made typically outrageous statements to reporters.
"This was not an arrest, it was a kidnapping," he said when he arrived at the airport.
"I'm very happy to be leaving," he said later.
He added: "Japan is a nice country, but you have a criminal leadership" and charged that Koizumi took all his "orders" from Bush.
Fischer's lawyer, Masako Suzuki, said the chess icon had "smiled from the bottom of his heart when he boarded the plane".
The chess master used a series of legal moves to fight deportation to the United States, including seeking refugee status, renouncing his U.S. citizenship and unveiling plans to marry his companion, Miyoko Watai, a four-time Japan women's chess champion.
"I'm very happy, it's like a dream," Watai told reporters on Thursday.
TOASTING HIS DEPARTURE
Fischer's lawyer said he and his supporters toasted his departure with beers in the business lounge while waiting to board the plane.
Iceland had granted him citizenship this week, clearing the way for him to leave for the tiny North Atlantic state where he is something of a hero.
Japan's top government spokesman, Hiroyuki Hosoda, told a news conference that Tokyo's decision to let Fischer go had been made in line with Japanese law.
"We understand that there has not been (an official) request from the United States to hand him over," Hosoda said.
Iceland has long been a close ally of the United States, and as the only non-armed member of NATO depends on Washington for its military defence.
Lawyer Suzuki said the chess icon was unlikely to return to Japan any time soon.
"He really liked Japan but now, because of this, he has come to hate it. I don't think he'll be returning soon," she said, adding he and Watai, who accompanied him, had no firm plans yet for their life in Iceland.
Fischer vanished after the 1992 match, in which he defeated his old rival Spassky and pocketed $3 million.He resurfaced after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. In an interview with a Philippine radio station, Fischer praised the strikes and said he wanted to see America "wiped out". Although born to a Jewish mother, Fischer has also stirred controversy with anti-Semitic remarks.