MOSCOW, September 3 (RIA Novosti) – Russian fertilizer giant Uralkali has asked the Russian government to make Belarus stop what the company on Tuesday called “politically motivated persecution” of Uralkali executives.
“The company believes it is necessary to once again reject all accusations brought against it by the Belarusian side,” Uralkali, which is embroiled in a commercial battle with its Belarusian counterpart, said in a statement. Uralkali “has asked the relevant Russian agencies for assistance in immediately terminating politically motivated persecution of Uralkali employees.”
Uralkali, one of the world’s largest potash producers, also said Belarus’ actions were “an attempt to use ... its law enforcement system as a means to inflict damage upon Uralkali as the key rival to state company Belaruskali.”
In July, Uralkali dissolved an international cartel with Belarusian potash giant Belaruskali, blaming Minsk for violating their cooperation agreement. The move sent shares in fertilizer producers tumbling worldwide and has precipitated a steady fall in fertilizer prices as consumers and traders anticipate a spike in competition for customers.
Billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, the biggest shareholder in Uralkali, was reportedly put on an Interpol wanted list Monday. He faces charges that carry a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison, Belarusian state media said.
Kerimov’s arrest warrant is an escalation of the criminal case facing businessmen linked to Uralkali after the company’s CEO, Vladislav Baumgertner, was arrested last week in Minsk's airport following a reported invitation from Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich to attend an official meeting.
Kerimov, Russia’s 20th-richest person with a fortune of $7.1 billion according to Forbes magazine, is wanted for abuse of power and official authority, Belarus’ Investigative Committee said, Belarusian state news agency BelTA reported.
Like Baumgertner, the charges against Kerimov are linked to his involvement in the Belarus Potash Company, the trading firm jointly owned by Belaruskali and Uralkali through which all their potash exports were channeled prior to their split.
The chairman of Uralkali’s board of directors, Alexander Voloshin, last week described the arrest of Baumgertner as “outrageous” and the charges against him as “absurd.” Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said last week that the situation around Baumgertner was “rather strange.”
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Monday that the charges against Kerimov, who is also a senator in Russia's upper house of parliament, needed to be fleshed out.
While Russia has consistently provided subsidized exports and cheap loans to Belarus, ruled by strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, the two countries have a long history of quarreling over economic questions. Lukashenko said last year that unspecified “Russian oligarchs” had offered him a $5 billion bribe to sell Belaruskali.