MINSK Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday set a $30 billion price tag on the country's main cash cow, potash miner Belaruskali, but said there were no negotiations under way for its sale.
Russian sources said earlier this week that Nafta Moscow, the investment vehicle of Russian tycoon Suleiman Kerimov, was in talks to buy a 50 percent plus one share in the state-owned fertilizer producer for $15 billion.
Sources in Moscow, quoted by Vedomosti newspaper, say Lukashenko and Kerimov have discussed the sale of Belaruskali -- which would greatly ease a financial crisis gripping Belarus -- but that they differ over its valuation.
Lukashenko, quoted by local Belarussian agencies, denied he had been in talks.
"Rumors are going round that this firm is already sold (but) I have not had talks about the sale of Belaruskali with anyone," he was quoted as telling a government meeting.
"If you have the money, then come. I have said quite clearly -- $30 billion on the table. If you have that sort of money then tomorrow you are the owners of this firm.
Belaruskali has long been seen as the state's most lucrative asset, but Lukashenko said in January -- before the currency crisis began to bite -- that no more than 25 percent of the company would be offered for sale.
The crisis, which threatens to undermine confidence in Lukashenko's leadership of the ex-Soviet republic which he has ruled since 1994, has forced a 36 percent devaluation of the Belarussian rouble and led to a chronic shortage of imported goods in shops.
Belarus has received a $3 billion bailout loan from a Russia-led regional fund but still needs more support and has turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for further financial assistance.
Both Russia and the IMF have urged Belarus to privatize assets to raise revenue and reform its Soviet-style economy, where 70 percent of output comes from the state sector.
Belaruskali and Russia's Uralkali (URKA.MM) (URKAq.L), in which Kerimov is a major shareholder, sell their output via the Belarusian Potash Co (BPC) joint venture, which controls more than 30 percent of global exports.
Belarus meanwhile said it would pay an outstanding electricity bill of $50 million to Russian state provider Inter RAO IUES.MM to ensure continued power supplies.
An Inter RAO source said on Thursday that it had halved power supplies to Belarus because of non-payment of the bill and threatened to cut off supplies entirely if Minsk did not pay up.
But Belarussian Energy Ministry spokeswoman Ludmila Zenkovich told Reuters on Friday the bill would be settled by July 1, meaning full supplies could resume on June 13.