Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Potash Dispute Escalates as Russian CEO Arrested in Belarus

The business dispute roiling the global potash market escalated after Belarus accused top executives at Russian producer OAO Uralkali (URKA) of a criminal scheme, threatening to embroil both governments in a conflict that could cause broader economic and political damage. Belarus officials detained Uralkali Chief Executive Officer Vladislav Baumgertner after inviting him to Minsk for talks. He’s still chairman of Belarusian Potash Co., the joint venture with state-owned Belaruskali that the Russian company said July 30 it was withdrawing from. Baumgertner was charged with abusing his office at the venture and could face as many as 10 years in prison if found guilty, Pavel Traulko, a spokesman for Belarus’s Investigative Committee, said yesterday by phone. Belarus officials have issued warrants for the arrest of four more Uralkali executives, accusing them along with Baumgertner of a scheme to cut Belaruskali out of decision-making at the venture, causing damages and losses of about $100 million. Uralkali, the world’s largest potash producer, quit BPC last month over a dispute about foreign sales. The Russian company is better positioned to go it alone outside the venture, which had controlled more than 40 percent of global exports, because it has the lowest costs of any major producer. Potash is used by farmers to help crops resist drought.

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