Uralkali CEO freed in Belarus prior to extradition


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MINSK, Belarus (AP) - Belarusian authorities on Thursday released the chief executive of Russia's largest potash company, who had been jailed on charges of harming the Belarusian economy, his lawyer said.

Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgertner was arrested in August and placed under house arrest a month later as a row between his company and its Belarusian trading partner escalated.

His lawyer, Alexei Basistov, said that Baumgertner was taken to the Russian Embassy in Minsk prior to his extradition to Russia. Russian prosecutors have opened a criminal probe against Baumgertner on abuse of office charges.

Analysts have described Baumgertner's arrest as retaliation for Uralkali's decision to pull out of a joint venture.

Uralkali and Belarusian Potash Co., a 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.

Potash is a key ingredient in fertilizer.

Uralkali pulled out of the trading venture in July after accusing the government in Minsk of allowing the state-owned company to export potash independently. Uralkali's 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.

Baumgertner's release comes days after a former Russian presidential candidate, Mikhail Prokhorov, said he would buy 22 percent 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.

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Vasilyeva reported from Moscow.


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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