UPDATE 2-Potash producers settle U.S. antitrust cases

Wed Jan 30, 2013 4:09pm EST

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* Potash Corp, Mosaic pay $43.75 mln each

* Agrium pays $10 mln

By Shounak Dasgupta and Rod Nickel

Jan 30 (Reuters) - Potash Corp of Saskatchewan Inc, Mosaic Co and Agrium Inc have settled U.S. antitrust lawsuits that accused them of artificially inflating potash prices.

Potash Corp and Mosaic paid $43.75 million each while Agrium paid $10 million to settle the cases brought by U.S. buyers in 2008, the companies said in separate statements on Wednesday.

Russian group JSC Uralkali, the world's second-largest potash producer by capacity after Canada's Potash Corp, agreed in September to settle the cases by paying $12.75 million.

Three more companies from Russia and Belarus - JSC Silvinit, JSC International Potash and JSC Belarusian Potash - were also named in the lawsuits in 2008. Uralkali and Silvinit merged in 2011.

The companies named in the lawsuits accounted for about 71 percent of global potash supply in 2008. The United States consumed 6.2 million tons of potash that year, of which 5.3 million was imported.

The settlement is subject to final approval of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Potash Corp said it decided to settle after weighing the multi-year financial cost required to defend the allegations.

"These allegations are completely without merit and we deny all of the claims asserted in the lawsuit," Chief Executive Bill Doyle said in a statement.

Shares of Potash Corp ended 0.3 percent higher at C$43.19 on Wednesday. Agrium shares closed up 0.6 percent at C$114.01. Minnesota-based Mosaic's shares ended 1.2 percent lower at $61.26 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Doyle said the settlement is an example of the "abuse of class actions in the United States" where self-interested lawyers enlist nominal plaintiffs to press "meritless claims."

Steven Hart, one of the lawyers for direct purchaser plaintiffs such as small companies and farmers, said he was disturbed by Doyle's comment.

"We feel they were reckless comments and inappropriate," Hart said. "Obviously this was a legitimate case ... It is inappropriate and self-serving to suggest that this claim was without merit."

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