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Belarus Seeks Compensation to Release Uralkali Chief

Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Belarus should be compensated if it releases the head of Russian potash producer OAO Uralkali from house arrest and allows him to return home, President Aleksandr Lukashenko said today.

Lukashenko is seeking payment in return for any decision to hand over Chief Executive Officer Vladislav Baumgertner, Belarusian state newswire Belta reported, citing a briefing for media. The alleged damages borne by Belarus weren’t specified.

Baumgertner, 41, has been under arrest in a Minsk apartment for a month, having been released from a Belarusian KGB jail in September. He was first detained Aug. 26 after withdrawing his company from a trading venture with Belarusian potash supplier Belaruskali, and was accused of abuse of office.

Russia opened a case against Baumgertner this month after Lukashenko demanded criminal charges as a condition of his transfer to Russia. A Moscow court arrested the CEO in absentia, Interfax said today, citing court spokeswoman Nataliya Romanova. Alexey Basistov, Baumgertner’s lawyer, declined to comment.

Uralkali, the world’s biggest potash producer, quit the trading venture at the end of July, saying its Belarusian partner had sold cargoes outside their marketing agreement, which accounted for 40 percent of global exports. The decision sent the $20 billion market into a tailspin, dragging down producers’ shares and depressing prices of the crop nutrient.

Criminal Probe

Belarus also has opened a criminal investigation into other Uralkali employees and its main shareholder Suleiman Kerimov, accusing them along with Baumgertner of a scheme to cut Belaruskali out of decision-making at their venture and causing $100 million of damages.

Uralkali, based in Berezniki in Russia’s Perm region, has maintained Baumgertner’s innocence and called for his release.

Kerimov, who shares a 33 percent stake in Uralkali with two partners, has received offers to sell his holding, including from fellow billionaires Mikhail Prokhorov, Mikhail Gutseriev and Vladimir Evtushenkov and former banker Vladimir Kogan, people with knowledge of the matter said last month.

Lukashenko called for Gutseriev to buy Kerimov’s stake, Interfax said today, citing the president. Lukashenko said he doesn’t know Prokhorov or Kogan, or what businesses they run, according to the news service.

Uralkali’s press office declined to comment when Bloomberg News called.

To contact the reporter on this story: Yuliya Fedorinova in Moscow at yfedorinova@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Viljoen at jviljoen@bloomberg.net

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