Belarus to extradite Uralkali CEO to Russia as dispute over potash company draws to a close

MOSCOW – Belarus will send home the jailed chief executive of Russia’s largest potash company whom it accused of harming the Belarusian economy, Russian officials said on Monday.

Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgertner was arrested in August and placed under house arrest a month later as a row between Uralkali and its Belarusian trading partner escalated. Analysts have described Baumgertner’s arrest as retaliation for Uralkali’s decision to pull out of a joint venture.

Potash is a key ingredient in fertilizer, and Uralkali and the Belarusian state-owned business had been exporting the commodity through a jointly run trading venture since 2005. Together they accounted for about a quarter of the world’s potash trade this year, giving them significant influence over global prices.

The Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement Thursday that Belarus has agreed to extradite Baumgertner, who has been kept in an apartment under surveillance since September. It said he will be home “soon.”

Belarusian prosecutors refused to comment.

Uralkali pulled out of a trading venture with its partner in Belarus in July after it accused the government in Minsk of allowing the state-owned company to export potash independently. The withdrawal left Belarusian Potash Co. with virtually no qualified staff and raised fears of a price war. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed that Uralkali and Baumgertner’s actions harmed his country’s economy.

Baumgertner is suspected of “abusing his powers,” an accusation that his business partners and some Russian officials found absurd because the executive was not an official and therefore had no powers to abuse. Uralkali has denied the charges, describing Minsk’s actions as blackmail.

Thursday’s announcement comes days after a former Russian presidential candidate, Mikhail Prokhorov, said he would buy 22 per cent of Uralkali from billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, who fell out with Lukashenko.

Lukashenko earlier threatened to bring charges against Kerimov in Belarus, and said that Baumgertner would be allowed to go only if he paid the damages that he allegedly caused, estimated at $100 million. It was not clear Thursday if Baumgertner would have to pay the damages.