MOSCOW, September 9 (RIA Novosti) – Shares in Uralkali jumped more than 8 percent Monday following media reports that the Russian fertilizer giant's biggest shareholder, billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, was close to selling his stake in an apparent move to solve the company’s conflict with neighboring Belarus.
Potential buyers of Kerimov’s 21.75 percent holding in Uralkali include the founder of oil company Russneft, Mikhail Gutseriyev, and former banker Vladimir Kogan, who reportedly has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Monday reports in the Vedomosti business newspaper and Forbes magazine.
Uralkali has been mired in a dispute with Belarus since it formally dissolved a cartel with Belarusian potash producer Belaruskali, one of Belarus' biggest companies and a key source of revenue for Minsk. The dissolution caused the share prices of fertilizer producers around the world to tumble, and has sent the price of potash on a steady downward slide.
Last month, Belarus arrested Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgertner, who remains in a Minsk prison, and the country is currently seeking the extradition of Kerimov on criminal charges that carry a jail sentence of up to 10 years.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has called for Baumgertner’s immediate release, and Putin said during a press conference Friday that the issue “should be resolved.” Uralkali in a statement last week dismissed the charges against its executives as “fabricated” and “politically motivated.”
A spokesman for Kerimov’s Nafta Moskva investment vehicle denied to RIA Novosti on Monday that Kerimov had already sold his stake in Uralkali, but declined to comment on whether Kerimov had received any offers from potential buyers. Neither Gutseriyev nor Kogan has commented on the reports. Another potential buyer for Kerimov’s stake is billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov, owner of AFK Sistema, Forbes reported.
The Suleiman Kerimov Foundation holds 21.75 percent of Uralkali’s shares, and Kerimov also controls Uralkali shares through Wadge Holdings, a company jointly owned by Kerimov, Anatoly Skurov and Filaryet Galtchev, according to Uralkali’s website. Kerimov’s 21.75 percent stake is currently worth about $3.3 billion.
Kerimov, Russia’s 20th-richest person with a fortune of $7.1 billion, according to Forbes, was in negotiations to buy Belaruskali in 2011, media reports said at the time, but the deal came to nothing.
Uralkali, the world's biggest potash producer, dissolved its cooperation agreement with Belaruskali in July, citing violations on the Belarusian side. Potash prices have fallen since then as consumers and traders anticipate a spike in competition among producers of the fertilizer.
After jumping more than 8 percent in Monday morning trading, Uralkali pared gains in the afternoon and by 3 p.m. had risen in Moscow by 6.2 percent to 172.93 rubles.
Updates with comments from Nafta Moskva spokesman