* Fertiliser giant buys stake in ex-Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Apatit
* Phosagro is world’s second largest fertiliser producer
VLADIVOSTOK/MOSCOW, Russia, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Phosagro , a Russian fertiliser company formerly owned by jailed ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, paid $344 million at a state tender to buy back a stake in a vital apatite supplier, Apatit, which was taken over by the state after his conviction.
The onslaught of charges against Khodorkovsky, who says he fell afoul of President Vladimir Putin for his political ambitions, began in 2003 when he and his partners came under suspicion for illegally acquiring a stake in Apatit, producer of an essential component for mineral fertilisers.
Khodorkovsky is serving a 13-year jail term on two separate convictions, including tax fraud and embezzlement, at a prison near the Arctic circle, and is due for release in 2016.
The state seized the Apatit stake when Khodorkovsky’s empire was being dismantled following his conviction in the first of two trials, which Kremlin critics say were politically charged.
Phosagro’s current owner, Andrei Guryev, was a manager in Khodorkovsky’s Menatep Group, which sold Phosagro and the group’s remaining 50 percent stake in Apatit to its management.
Phosagro, the world’s second-largest phosphate producer after Minnesota-based Mosaic Co, later raised its stake to 57.57 percent shares of Apatit.
Apatit says it is the world’s largest producer of high quality apatite concentrate, a key fertiliser ingredient.
Russia’s Economy Minister Andrei Belousov told reporters in Vladivostok on Wednesday that PhosAgro won the stake at a state tender.
Phosagro offered 11.11 billion roubles ($344 million) for the stake, it said in a statement. The R ussian government previously wanted to sell it for at least 10.5 billion roubles ($325 million).