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Head of Russia's Uralkali faces charges in Belarus

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[August 27, 2013]  MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- Investigators in Belarus on Monday arrested and charged the head of Russia's largest potash producer Uralkali on charges of abusing its power -- just weeks after the company pulled out of a trade venture with its neighboring country.

Uralkali's chief executive Vladislav Baumgertner was held Monday after being arrested at Minsk airport as he was leaving for Moscow following a meeting with the Belarusian prime minister.

Potash is a key ingredient in fertilizer, and Uralkali and Belarusian state-owned Belaruskali had been exporting the commodity through a jointly-run trading venture since 2005. The venture, which has been accused of fixing the price of potash, suddenly broke up in July when Uralkali accused Belarusian President Lukashenko of allowing Belarusian companies to export potash independently.

Uralkali's shares have lost 20 percent since it decided to quit the cartel, while the price of potash has fallen by 5 percent to $390 a ton. Uralkali executives have said they expect the price to drop to $300 by the end of the year.

Belarus's Investigative Committee said Monday that they suspect Baumgertner of planning to cause a drop in the potash market by quitting the joint venture "in order to gain material benefits."

Investigators also promised to look into the work of Suleiman Kerimov, a Russian tycoon who owns 22 percent in Uralkali.

Uralkali's shares at the MICEX exchange in Moscow dropped nearly 4 percent on the news.

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Four other Uralkali executive face similar charges in Belarus, officials said.

Uralkali's spokesman described Monday's arrest of their chief executive as a "crude provocation of Belarusian authorities" and called for Baumgertner's immediate release.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov on Monday expressed the government's concern over Baumgertner's arrest and said that the actions of Belarusian authorities were "strange and improper."

[Associated Press; YURAS KARMANAU]

Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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