Defense attorneys prepare their case for the CEO of OAO Uralkali, the world’s No. 1 potash producer, currently imprisoned in Belarus after the collapse of a venture representing two-fifths of the world’s potash supply, despite Russian officials claims he may soon be freed.
Vladislav Baumgertner and four other Uralkali executives, for whom Minsk officials issued Interpol arrest warrants, stand accused of conspiring to cut their state-run joint Belaruskali venture out of decision-making at Belarus Potash, causing $100 million of damages. The 41-year-old tycoon faces 10 years in prison.
However, the Kremlin, which spearheaded a $3-billion bailout to Minsk in 2011, has made strenuous demands for Baumgertner’s release. A foreign ministry spokesman, in fact, said Moscow expected Belarus to release him in “coming days.” Belarus is getting the last $400 million of the Russian-led emergency funding by Q4 2013.
The stakes are high. Potash comprises 8% of Belarusian exports, and Belaruskali is one of its top industrial enterprises; a collapse in potash prices would thus deal a serious blow to Minsk, which has suffered from major falls in its currency, the ruble, in recent years.
Uralkali has long coveted Belaruskali and, in 2012, was negotiating to buy a stake in the company, but talks fell apart after Baumgertner told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko he would not sell a controlling stake in the state-owned firm.