* Uralkali CEO invited for potash talks by Belarus
* Arrested at airport a month after pulling out of cartel
* Potash prices likely to fall now cartel dissolved
* Potash a key source of currency for Belarus
By Polina Devitt
MOSCOW, Sept 8 Vladislav Baumgertner has the
fluent English, Western business degrees and meteoric career
that typify Russia's young executive elite, but the boss of
Uralkali, the world's largest potash producer, is now more in
need of Soviet-era survival skills.
For two weeks Baumgertner, 41, has been held in a dank
Stalin-era Belarusian cell, facing up to 10 years in jail on
charges of abusing power and seeking gain at the expense of
Belarus while chairman of a joint venture cartel, Belarusian
Potash Company (BPC), which until last month controlled Russian
and Belarusian exports of the fertiliser ingredient.
Belarus, which has long bridled at what it believes is
Uralkali's aim to take over its own producer Belaruskali, was
angered by Uralkali's abrupt exit from BPC last month,
a move likely to lower prices, hit a key source of hard currency
and hurt Belarus's rickety economy.
The Belarusian Investigative Committee has not provided
details on the charge, though among comments it made at the time
of Baumgertner's arrest are allegations that he and others at
BPC provided discounts on product to some buyers without telling
the Belarusians, redirected ships to take Uralkali product
instead of Belaruskali's, and cancelled some BPC contracts,
promising partners a Uralkali alternative at lower prices.
Uralkali denies any wrongdoing and has said previously that
Baumgertner did not have the powers the Belarus authorities say
HANDCUFFED AT THE AIRPORT
After travelling to Belarus for talks less than a month
after pulling out of BPC, Baumgertner was handcuffed at the
airport as he was leaving on Aug. 26 and thrust into the heart
of an acrimonious battle between Moscow and Minsk.
He, along with Uralkali's chairman, former Kremlin
chief-of-staff Alexander Voloshin, and the company's leading
shareholder, Suleiman Kerimov, had been invited to Belarus by
the country's prime minister. Only Baumgertner went.
He is being held in the pre-trial detention centre of the
Belarusian KGB, known to locals as 'Amerikanka', or the American
one, apparently after a Chicago jail.
His requests have been for unspecified medication, and for
Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina", an 864-page classic that will fill
several long days.
Conditions are likely to be tough for the slight
Anatoly Lebedko, Belarusian politician and leader of the
United Civic Party, spent 108 days in Amerikanka for taking part
in protests after President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected
He described the cells, the largest 2.5 metres by 5 metres,
as dark, grey, crowded and damp. Lebedko was one of six in a
cell built for four, in temperatures typically below 14 degrees
Celsius (57 Fahrenheit).
"There are many ways to add pressure. If you're not ready,
if you are not physically ready for conditions which are far
from comfortable, it will be very hard for you," he said.
Prisoners are taken from the cells twice a day to the toilet
facilities, though Lebedko says there are "VIP cells" with
Baumgertner is not the first top Russian executive to end up
in jail. But it would have been a considerable shock for him, as
it was for those around him, both competitors and friends said.
"The board was apprised of the history, of the difficulties
of the apparent divergence of objectives (between the cartel
partners) that had been progressively building," said Uralkali
Deputy Chairman Robert Margetts.
"Of course we spent a lot of time on the commercial and
financial risks and the consequences (of pulling out) - but I
have to say, I had not considered this."
Baumgertner is by all accounts a soft-spoken boss, with a
cheerful countenance. Rivals and colleagues describe a
methodical, tough negotiator whose approach to staff and the
public is a far cry from Soviet-trained predecessors'.
"He is a man of his word, a rare thing in our times," said
Maxim Volkov, former chief executive of Russian fertiliser
Baumgertner, who had been in the utilities sector and later
studied in London, joined Uralkali for the first time in 2003 as
chief commercial officer, rising to chief executive in 2005.
He left in 2010 when demoted under the then owners and
became CEO of another fertilizer producer, Silvinit. Supported
by key shareholder Kerimov, he returned in 2011 after Uralkali
He is described as having built a young, ambitious
management team, and praised for his efficiency, perhaps a
product of his engineer's training. In a country where bad news
is often muffled, his instinct for openness stands out,
including during a damaging 2006 flood at a mine in the Urals
and when dramatic sinkholes appeared in the potash mining town
"Vladislav, as (CEO) at the time and despite some people at
Uralkali being reluctant to go public, opened all the doors,
invited the best consultants around the world to help and did
not try to hide these issues from the public," said Henry
Rauche, chief executive of Ercosplan, a German engineering and
consulting company working for the potash industry.
"He was a refreshing change after the Soviet style
leadership in the former Russian potash industry."
He has not been seen in public or photographed since his