Russia protests 'unacceptable' arrest of potash CEO

27th August 2013, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Tuesday summoned the Belarussian ambassador to Moscow to protest against the "unacceptable" arrest in Minsk of the chief executive of the leading Russian potash producer hours after he met the country's prime minister.

Uralkali chief executive Vladislav Baumgertner was arrested at Minsk airport on Monday after visiting the ex-Soviet state on the personal invitation of Belarussian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Belarus' ambassador to Moscow Igor Petrishenko in Moscow that "the arrest of the businessman... is unacceptable," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The arrest and information campaign surrounding it does not reflect the allied nature of our relations and could affect the scheduling of Russian-Belarussian contacts at a political level," it added, demanding Baumgertner's release.

The extraordinary arrest of Baumgertner in the Belarussian capital Minsk came three weeks after Uralkali severed links with its Belarussian partner Belaruskali, triggering a crash in the share prices of global manufacturers of the fertiliser.

Belarussian investigators claim to have uncovered an illegal scheme for Baumgertner and other Uralkali managers to enrich themselves at a cost of $100 million to Belarus.

Baumgertner can now be held in custody for two months although that can then be extended, the spokesman of the Belarussian Investigative Committee, Pavel Traulko, said Tuesday.

"The accused is currently being interrogated," he told AFP in Minsk.

Four other managers at Uralkali have also been put on a wanted list by the Belarussian Investigative Committee in the probe. But they are currently all believed to be in Moscow.

The Belarussian Investigative Committee also said that it is investigating Suleiman Kerimov, the billionaire owner of Russia premier league team Anzhi Makhachkala and a major Uralkali shareholder, for unlawful activities.

The arrest of Baumgertner shocked observers given the regime of strongman Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is hugely dependent on cheap energy imports from Russia and Russian credits to keep its economy afloat.

A source close to Uralkali told Russia's Kommersant daily that the approval for such an arrest could only have come from Lukashenko, who has been in power for almost two decades.

The mercurial Lukashenko has needled Russia on occasion with his sometimes maverick behaviour but observers believe the Kremlin far prefers him to a pro-West figure who could steer Minsk to the EU.

© 2013 AFP

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