UPDATE 2-Belarus moots repatriation of Uralkali CEO to Russia, ownership change

Thu Sep 19, 2013 11:29am EDT
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* Uralkali chief held on Aug 26 after collapse of sales cartel

* Lukashenko says does not want potash row to harm ties with Russia

By Andrei Makhovsky

MINSK, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Belarus said on Thursday it was ready to repatriate the head of Russian potash producer Uralkali , arrested last month to protests from Moscow, but wanted a change of ownership in the firm that would restore strong commercial links with Belarus.

President Alexander Lukashenko, taking a conciliatory tack after weeks of tension following the July collapse of a lucrative sales cartel, said he wanted to prevent the potash row becoming a major stumbling block in his ties with Russia.

Vladislav Baumgertner, chief executive of the world's top potash producer, was detained on Aug. 26 while visiting the Belarussian capital, about a month after Uralkali pulled out of the partnership, threatening a huge loss of revenue for Belarus and infuriating Lukashenko.

Belarus has accused the 41-year-old Baumgertner of abuse of power and has twice turned down appeals for him to be released provisionally pending investigation.

With the affair placing fresh strain on the close, but often tense, relations between the two ex-Soviet allies, speculation has mounted that billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, Uralkali's main shareholder, may sell his $3.7 billion stake in a shake-up in its top management.

Some analysts have spoken of a possible re-marriage with state-owned Belaruskali.   Continued...