* Uralkali at centre of dispute between Russia and Belarus
* Kerimov, partners want a premium for Uralkali-sources
* Search for buyer acceptable to the Kremlin
* Potential buyers want guarantee of good relations with
By Polina Devitt and Douglas Busvine
MOSCOW, Sept 25 Russian billionaire Mikhail
Prokhorov's investment group Onexim has joined a list potential
bidders for a stake in potash producer Uralkali, as
the search continues for a peacemaker to end a row that has
soured relations with Belarus.
Tycoon-turned-politician Prokhorov was linked by Bloomberg
on Wednesday to the stake owned by his former partner Suleiman
Kerimov, who has come under pressure after Uralkali in July quit
a sales cartel with state-owned Belaruskali that had controlled
two-fifths of the world market.
The dissolution of the pact threatens to push prices down 25
percent, a massive blow to the fragile economy of Belarus which
relies on exports of potash, a major fertiliser ingredient, for
12 percent of state revenue.
Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgertner has been in a KGB prison
in Minsk for nearly a month, and faces up to 10 years in jail on
charges of abuse of office, raising pressure for a change of
ownership that could bring about a reconciliation.
Kerimov is not under pressure to sell, one financial source
familiar with his position said, but a search is under way for a
buyer acceptable to the Kremlin who would be able to "pour oil
on troubled waters".
Prokhorov, a metals and banking tycoon who owns the Brooklyn
Nets pro basketball team, ran against Vladimir Putin in last
year's presidential vote but is widely seen as a card-carrying
member of Russia's establishment.
Onexim declined to comment, as did Kerimov's investment
Kerimov owns a 21.75 percent stake in Uralkali through his
foundation. Together with his partners, Filaret Galtchev and
Anatoly Skurov, he controls 33 percent of Uralkali.
Three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that
nothing had been decided so far, with one adding: "Everybody is
going around in circles."
Two of the sources said Kerimov and his partners wanted a
premium for the asset, while the potential buyers were seeking a
guarantee that good relations with Belarus would be restored.
"It's an attempt to organise a beauty contest," one said.
Chinese sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp
acquired a 12.5 percent stake in Uralkali, via a bond exchange
deal on Tuesday. The deal was triggered when Uralkali's market
value fell below $20 billion, a level that could serve as a
benchmark for future deals.
Analysts say the Chinese deal, on behalf of a country that
is the world's top potash importer, might complicate attempts to
revive the Russia-Belarus potash cartel
JOIN THE QUEUE
Prokhorov joins a roll-call of candidates that have been
linked in press reports to Uralkali, including Norilsk Nickel
, the Arctic miner run by Vladimir Potanin - another
former partner. Norilsk has denied any interest.
Also linked to the stake has been Vladimir Evtushenkov,
majority owner of telecoms-to-oil conglomerate Sistema.
Evtushenkov has also denied his interest and, in an
interview on Wednesday, CEO Mikhail Shamolin told Reuters that
Sistema was not considering any offers.
Political contacts between Moscow and Minsk have intensified
this week, with Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting his
Belarussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on the fringes of a
regional summit on Monday.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told reporters on Wednesday
he would discuss the matter with his Belarussian opposite
number, Mikhail Myasnikovich.
It was Myasnikovich who invited Baumgertner to a meeting on
Aug. 26 after which the Uralkali CEO was detained, triggering
public protests by the company's chairman, former Kremlin chief
of staff Alexander Voloshin.
"(We) will (discuss) everything, of course, definitely,"
Medvedev told reporters in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
Uralkali shares were up 1.4 percent in Moscow, outperforming
a 0.8-percent rise on the Moscow index.