Belarus Wants Russia to Charge Uralkali CEO Before Handover

Belarus will insist that Russia lay criminal charges against OAO Uralkali Chief Executive Officer Vladislav Baumgertner before allowing him to return to his home country, said President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Baumgertner “committed a crime,” Lukashenko said at a press briefing today. The 41-year-old CEO was arrested in Minsk on Aug. 26, a month after announcing his company’s withdrawal from a potash marketing venture with Belarus that accounted for 40 percent of global supplies of the soil nutrient. Lukashenko called for the partnership to be restored.

Russia’s investigation committee has received documents on Baumgertner’s case from its Belarus counterpart and will decide whether to open a case after studying them and in accordance with the country’s laws, the Moscow-based general prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

The $20 billion potash market was roiled at the end of July after Uralkali, the biggest producer, split with its Belarusian partner, accusing it of selling cargoes outside of their marketing agreement. The Russian company said it would increase output, sending shares of fertilizer producers plunging from Toronto to Tel Aviv.

Belarus charged Baumgertner with abuse of office in his role as chairman of the Belarusian Potash Co. marketing venture. He was held in a KGB prison for a month before being moved to house arrest in a rented apartment in the Belarus capital.

Charge Changed?

The charge against the CEO has been changed “probably” to embezzlement, Lukashenko said at the briefing, without giving details. Dmitry Goryachko, a lawyer for Baumgertner in Minsk, declined to comment on the allegations against his client.

The Belarus president said Sept. 19 that Baumgertner may be handed to Russian investigators. Prosecutors from the two former Soviet republics have discussed options for Baumgertner’s release, Interfax reported at the time. The CEO should be tried either in Belarus, or Russia, Lukashenko said today.

Belarus asked Interpol to issue an arrest warrant for billionaire Uralkali shareholder Suleiman Kerimov and four employees of the Russian potash producer. The agency declined the request, Interfax reported Sept. 27. Interior Minister Igor Shunevich said Oct. 2 that Interpol is still reviewing Belarus’s request.

Lukashenko said today his country’s investigation into Kerimov will continue, without specifying a charge. Belarus has said that a reconciliation between Belarus and Uralkali will only be possible if ownership of the Russian company changes. Kerimov, who controls 33 percent of the Berezniki-based Uralkali with two business partners, has held talks on selling the stake since Baumgertner’s detention.

‘No Swindlers’

The Uralkali-Belarus potash partnership should be restored, a move that would “double the price” of the nutrient, Lukashenko said. “This is beneficial to us and to you, but we don’t want to see any swindlers.”

The Belarus president repeated a claim he first made last year that he was offered a bribe to give up control of the country’s state-owned potash industry. The figure was $15 billion, with $10 billion to be paid to the state for the asset and the rest to him, Lukashenko said.

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