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Uralkali CEO arrested in Belarus, potash market uncertainty escalates

The CEO of Russia’s largest potash producer Uralkali (LON: URALL) was arrested Monday after being invited to a meeting with the Belarusian prime minister, in an escalation of the rift between the Russian miner and its former partner Belaruskali.

Media reports said Vladislav Baumgertner was detained for “abuse of power for private gain,” in his role as the chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Belarusian Potash Co, or BPC, a joint export cartel set up by Uralkali and Belaruskali to reach global markets.

This is the first time that a top executive of a Russian company is arrested in Belarus, a close ally of the Kremlin. “What happened is way out of the line,” Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told reporters in Moscow, according to Interfax news agency.

He added the situation was plainly “strange and inadequate.”

“When you receive an invitation from the prime minister of a country you think it will be quite safe,” a spokeswoman for Uralkali was quoted as saying. She added Uralkali sees the arrest as an “outrageous provocation” and is seeking assistance from Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

In a statement, Uralkali’s Board Chairman, Alexander Voloshin, said he considered Baumgertner’s detention to be an outrageous act.

“Economic disputes and various differences which often arise in the course of business should not be dealt with in such a manner, ” Voloshin said. “I know Vladislav Baumgertner to be an honest and very decent law-abiding citizen, as well as a world-class professional,” he added.

Late last month Baumgertner shocked the global potash industry announcing he was pulling Uralkali —the world’s No. 1 potash producer— out of BPC, which push down shares of major producers, such as Canadian Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc.

The decision sent shockwaves through the industry worldwide, with experts predicting potash prices to fall by 25% in the second half of this year.

Image of Vladislav Baumgertner being detained. Screenshot from a video by ONT TV channel