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Vladislav Baumgertner, CEO of Russian potash producer OAO Uralkali, has been arrested in in Belarus on charges of abuse of office for his move in July to break up joint venture Belarusian Potash Co.
Vladislav Baumgertner, CEO of Russian potash producer OAO Uralkali, has been arrested in in Belarus on charges of abuse of office for his move in July to break up joint venture Belarusian Potash Co.
(DENIS SINYAKOV/REUTERS)

SEAN SILCOFF

Cartel clash reveals potash industry’s dirty little secret

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What’s more unseemly – the existence of two cartels that dominate the world’s potash industry, or the criminal pursuit of the man who would break up one of those economically-distorting arrangements? The arrest in Belarus of Vladislav Baumgertner, CEO of Russia’s OAO Uralkali, on charges of abuse of office for his move last month to break up joint venture Belarusian Potash Co. (BPC), may not be how most developed countries do business. The move, following long-simmering tensions between the partners, drew a fierce retort from Russian officials, and would be unthinkable in Canada, home to BPC’s rival, Canpotex. But it underscores a reality about cartels: while they violate free-market principles, countries that host such entities have a vested interest in keeping them together.