UPDATE 2-Russia opens case against potash boss, seeks extradition

Mon Oct 14, 2013 2:08pm EDT
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* Uralkali CEO accused of abuse of power by Belarus

* Arrested in Minsk following breakup of Russia-Belarus JV

By Polina Devitt and Alessandra Prentice

MOSCOW, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Russia has opened a criminal investigation into the chief executive of potash producer Uralkali, Vladislav Baumgertner, and will request his extradition from Belarus, federal investigators said on Monday.

The step by Russian authorities opened the door for a face-saving resolution of a tense situation in which the head of the world's biggest producer of the fertiliser component is under house arrest in Moscow's neighbour and close ally.

Belarus detained Baumgertner, 41, at Minsk airport in late August, about a month after Russian company Uralkali abruptly pulled out of a potash sales cartel with a partner in Belarus.

Uralkali's withdrawal from the alliance with state-run Belaruskali rocked the global potash industry and threatened Belarus, which is heavily dependent on cheap Russian energy and financial aid, with losses.

The soil nutrient accounts for 12 percent of Belarus's state revenues and about 10 percent of export income, and the cartel's demise angered Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarus said last week that it had started selling potash on its own, but Lukashenko urged the two sides to put the lucrative partnership back together again. The cartel accounted for 40 percent of the world market worth around $20 billion a year.   Continued...