March 30, 2016 / 1:43 PM / 2 years ago

UPDATE 1-K+S chairman backs CEO after report of pressure to replace him

* Board members pressing for replacement of CEO-Bilanz

* Lohr could be named CEO before May 11 AGM-Bilanz

* Chairman says board is very satisfied with Steiner

* Chairman says board to decide succession in due course (Releads with Chairman backing CEO, background on waste water disposal, prosecutor’s charges)

FRANKFURT, March 30 (Reuters) - Germany’s K+S is happy with Norbert Steiner as chief executive, the potash and salt mining group’s chairman said in response to a report that there was board pressure to replace him with the K+S finance chief.

German magazine Bilanz reported on Wednesday that “influential supervisory board members” at K+S were pressing for Chief Financial Officer Burkhard Lohr to be made CEO before its May 11 AGM because they were dissatisfied with the business.

“The board is very satisfied with the work of Mr Steiner,” supervisory board Chairman Ralf Bethke said in a statement in response to the report, which cited unnamed company sources.

Bethke said the board had been looking intensively at the succession plan for Steiner, whose contract runs out after the 2017 annual shareholder meeting, and that it would publish its decision in due course.

K+S warned earlier this month of a significant drop in operating profit, citing lower potash prices and output restrictions imposed by environmental regulators.

Lohr joined as CFO in 2012, having held the same position at construction group Hochtief.

Steiner, who recently said he expected to retire in May 2017 when his contract runs out, has had a tumultuous time of late.

Last year, K+S fended off a 41-euro-per share takeover approach from larger Canadian rival Potash Corp, which withdrew its proposal in October.

Steiner argued at the time the proposed bid failed to take into account the value of K+S’s new mining project in Canada and its global salt business but K+S has seen its share price drop to 21 euros, hurt by lower global potash prices.

The company is facing production outages this year because a environmental regulator in the state of Hesse in December gave only provisional approval for the disposal of waste water and imposed strict limits.

K+S has said it expects to get the regulator’s final approval, meaning that restrictions would be lifted, by summer of this year.

Separately, German prosecutors are pressing charges against CEO Steiner and 13 other K+S employees over alleged illegal waste water disposal, but the court has yet to decide whether the case will go to trial.

K+S has said a legal audit it had commissioned by an external law firm found no evidence of criminal conduct. (Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Patricia Weiss; Editing by Jonathan Gould and Alexander Smith)

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