MOSCOW Russian billionaire Vladimir Evtushenkov has denied any interest in acquiring a stake in Uralkali (URKA.MM), the world's largest potash miner by output, after reports that its top shareholder, Suleiman Kerimov, was under pressure to sell.
Kerimov was accused of abuse of power by Belarus after Uralkali dissolved a key sales alliance. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko wants Kerimov to sell his 21.75 percent stake, Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday.
Evtushenkov, owner of oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Sistema (SSAq.L) (AFKS.MM), was one of three potential bidders for the shares, worth around $3 billion, the paper said, citing sources.
"I read all this too. There is nothing behind this," Evtushenkov told Reuters when asked if he was interested in the Uralkali stake.
The reports of a possible sale pushed Uralkali shares up more than 6 percent to their highest since the firm quit the Russia-Belarus trading agreement in July - rocking the global potash industry and sparking a diplomatic and trade row that led to Belarus arresting Uralkali's head Vladislav Baumgertner.
Russian President Vladimir Putin belatedly weighed into the dispute on Friday but his mild comments were interpreted by some as suggesting lukewarm Kremlin support for Kerimov.
Aides to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have been more emphatic in criticizing Minsk, suggesting a split between the Kremlin and Medvedev's government in their commitment to support the company.
A sale by Kerimov would help solve the legal issues faced by the executive and Uralkali's management in Belarus, Kommersant cited sources as saying.
The report followed a posting on Facebook on Saturday by Russian lawyer Alexander Dobrovinsky who said Kerimov had already sold a large chunk of his shares, citing a well-connected source.
Kerimov's investment vehicle Nafta Moskva denied Kerimov had sold his stake but declined comment on a potential sale. Uralkali, which reports quarterly results on Tuesday, declined comment.
Alongside Evtushenkov, Mikhail Gutseriev, a founder of oil firm Russneft, and former banker Vladimir Kogan were also listed as potential bidders, reports said. Neither Gutseriev or Kogan could be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva; Writing by Polina Devitt and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Douglas Busvine and David Holmes)