Russia's Sberbank secures Belarus potash stake
Russia's largest bank Sberbank said Friday it had secured a 35-percent stake in the main economic asset of Belarus as collateral for a $2 billion loan it will extend jointly with Deutsche Bank to the country.
The state bank's announcement came one day after India's ambassador to Belarus said New Delhi was also interested in buying into the Belaruskali potash giant given soaring emerging market demand for fertiliser products.
Sberbank chief German Gref told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that the loan would also be secured by future Belaruskali potash deliveries.
"We have decided together with Deutsche Bank to extend a $2 billion (1.4-billion-euro) loan to one of Belarus' largest enterprises, Belaruskali," Gref said in comments reported on the government's website.
"This is not a very easy time for Belarus. But for us, this is a fairly safe, good loan," Gref said, without providing details about Deutsche Bank's involvement in the deal.
"This should greatly help Belarus overcome the crisis at this difficult time," said Gref, Russia's former economy minister.
Global lender Deutsche Bank issued no immediate comment.
Gref said the cash would be lent directly to Belaruskali -- a fully state-owned enterprise responsible for 16 percent of the world's potash exports.
Belarus this year has been hit by a severe current account deficit that prompted a 36-percent currency devaluation in May and the imposition of price caps on basic staples.
President Alexander Lukashenko has slapped a $30 billion price tag on Belaruskali and his government had previously brushed aside Russian interest in the strategically important firm.
Gref has positioned Sberbank to play the role of Lukashenko's official adviser to a privatisation programme that is meant to raise $7.5 billion in three years to help him stabilise the public finances.
The ex-Soviet republic is also seeking $8 billion in assistance from the International Monetary Fund.
Negotiations over Belaruskali's sale have been slow and top Russian potash producer Suleyman Kerimov said in June his Nafta Moskva firm did not expect a deal to be conducted in the immediate future.
Sberbank previously said it might help finance Kerimov's purchase of a stake in Belaruskali and Gref's announcement Friday could be the first step in a potential deal involving Nafta Moskva.
Gref's comments came one day after Indian Ambassador Manoj K. Bharti met Lukashenko and later told reporters that his country was eager to take part in Belaruskali's privatisation, should a formal bidding process be announced.
"India is interested in purchasing Belaruskali shares if they are offered," Minsk's official Belta news agency quoted the Indian ambassador as saying.
The importance of potash fertiliser has soared in recent years owing to mounting demand for food in the major emerging economies such as India and China.
© 2011 AFP