* Uralkali says "considering transaction" for Belarus firm
* Says may lend its trading partner $1 billion
* Russian tycoon said to be seeking 50 pct stake for $15 bln
* Sale of potash producer would greatly ease currency crisis
(Adds Uralkali statement, background)
By Andrei Makhovsky
MINSK, June 10 Russian potash miner Uralkali
said it is considering doing a deal with the state-owned
Belarussian fertiliser firm Belaruskali, which has been valued
by Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko at $30 billion.
Uralkali said in a statement it was "considering entering
into a transaction with Belaruskali", and may lend its trading
partner $1 billion as part of any deal.
Uralkali and Belaruskali, which between them control 40
percent of global potash trade, are already partners in the
export vehicle Belarusian Potash Company (BPC).
"The Uralkali Group has not yet entered into any binding
agreement, and no assurance can be made that the transaction
will be completed on these terms or at all," it said.
A spokesman declined to comment further.
On Wednesday a source familiar with the situation said that
Nafta Moscow, the investment vehicle of Russian tycoon and
Uralkali's (URKA.MM) main shareholder Suleiman Kerimov, was in
talks to buy a 50 percent plus one share stake in Belaruskali
for $15 billion. [ID:nLDE75722R]
But sources in Moscow quoted by Vedomosti newspaper said on
Friday that although Lukashenko and Kerimov have discussed the
sale of Belaruskali, which would help resolve a financial crisis
gripping Belarus, they differ over its valuation.
ON THE TABLE
And Lukashenko, quoted by local Belarussian agencies, denied
on Friday that he had been in talks.
"Rumours are going round that this firm is already sold
(but) I have not had talks about the sale of Belaruskali with
anyone," he was quoted as telling a government meeting.
"If you have the money, then come. I have said quite clearly
-- $30 billion on the table. If you have that sort of money then
tomorrow you are the owners of this firm.
Analysts say demand for potash is set to rise as the world
grapples with food shortages, making it a hot commodity for
miners and investors alike.
Belaruskali has long been seen as the state's most lucrative
asset, but Lukashenko said in January before the currency crisis
began to bite that no more than 25 percent of the company would
be offered for sale.
The crisis, which threatens to undermine confidence in
Lukashenko's leadership of the ex-Soviet republic which he has
ruled since 1994, has brought a 36 percent devaluation in the
Belarussian rouble and led to a chronic shortage of imported
goods in shops.
Belarus has received a $3 billion bailout loan from a
Russia-led regional fund but still needs more support and has
turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for further
Both Russia and the IMF have urged Belarus to privatise
assets to raise revenue and reform its Soviet-style economy,
where 70 percent of output comes from the state sector.
Belarus meanwhile said it would pay an oustanding
electricity bill of $50 million to Russian state provider Inter
RAO IUES.MM to ensure continued power supplies.
An Inter RAO source said on Thursday that it had halved
power supplies to Belarus because of non-payment of the bill and
threatened to cut off supplies entirely if Minsk did not pay up.
But Belarussian Energy Ministry spokeswoman Ludmila
Zenkovich told Reuters on Friday the bill would be settled by
July 1, meaning full supplies could resume on June 13.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Richard Balmforth in
Kiev and John Bowker in Moscow; Editing by Greg Mahlich)