From potash powerbroker to Minsk prison, the cost of crossing Belarus

Sun Sep 8, 2013 4:03am EDT
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* Uralkali CEO invited for potash talks by Belarus

* Arrested at airport a month after pulling out of cartel

* Potash prices likely to fall now cartel dissolved

* Potash a key source of currency for Belarus

By Polina Devitt

MOSCOW, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Vladislav Baumgertner has the fluent English, Western business degrees and meteoric career that typify Russia's young executive elite, but the boss of Uralkali, the world's largest potash producer, is now more in need of Soviet-era survival skills.

For two weeks Baumgertner, 41, has been held in a dank Stalin-era Belarusian cell, facing up to 10 years in jail on charges of abusing power and seeking gain at the expense of Belarus while chairman of a joint venture cartel, Belarusian Potash Company (BPC), which until last month controlled Russian and Belarusian exports of the fertiliser ingredient.

Belarus, which has long bridled at what it believes is Uralkali's aim to take over its own producer Belaruskali, was angered by Uralkali's abrupt exit from BPC last month, a move likely to lower prices, hit a key source of hard currency and hurt Belarus's rickety economy.

The Belarusian Investigative Committee has not provided details on the charge, though among comments it made at the time of Baumgertner's arrest are allegations that he and others at BPC provided discounts on product to some buyers without telling the Belarusians, redirected ships to take Uralkali product instead of Belaruskali's, and cancelled some BPC contracts, promising partners a Uralkali alternative at lower prices.   Continued...