Mikhail Gutseriev will produce potassium in Belarus for China

The head of Russia's richest family has been a frequent guest in Belarus and of the president of the country since 2000.
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In the middle of July, 2017, near the town of Luban, 150 km from Minsk, a hole in a concrete slab began drilling a total of 86 wells with a depth of 156 m, where a "brine" of calcium chloride, which cools the soil to -35 degrees Celsius, is then drilled. In eight months there will be a permafrost, not allowing groundwater to enter this circle with a diameter of several tens of meters. By this time on the site there will be manufactured in Germany, the stem-penetrating machines that will start drilling two-shafts with depths of nearly 800 meters by 32-meter drills. "Such ones were used only in Canada at the BHP Billiton potash deposit," says Mikhail Gutseriev (No.20 in the list of Forbes, the state - $ 6.3 billion). "I was there, descended to the very bottom, and compared to the drilling and blasting method, which is still used in Russia, this is the XXI century - three meters per day instead of one and a half."

The project is owned by Gutseriev, the Slavkali company, registered in Belarus. The new Nezhinsky GOK will develop the eastern section of the Starobinsky potash deposit, explored reserves of 3 billion tons of ore, the future capacity of the enterprise is 2 million tons, and the volume of investments is $ 2 billion. These are the terms of the 2011 investment agreement between Gutseriev and the government of Belarus. Potassium for Belarus is a key export commodity, as for Russia oil. "Slavkaliy" will become the second after the "Belaruskali" fertilizer producer in the country.

A gigantic project would hardly have happened if there had not been many seemingly unrelated events thousands of kilometers away from the little Lubani: the hasty departure of Mikhail Gutseriev to London in 2007 (he was threatened with arrest in Russia), the Russian-Belarusian Potash Wars 2013 year, the introduction of anti-Russian sanctions. From 2009 to 2016, potash prices fell from $ 653 per tonne to $ 261. Why should the head of Russia's richest clan, who have large assets in the oil and financial sectors, real estate and retail, enter the complex oligopolistic potash market?

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In 2002, after resigning from the post of the general director of the state-owned company Slavneft, Mikhail Gutseriev created his own Russneft, and three years later this company was among the ten largest in the industry. In the summer of 2007, the businessman was charged with non-payment of taxes and illegal entrepreneurship. Without waiting for arrest, Gutseriev hastily sold Russneft to Oleg Deripaska for $ 3.5 billion and disappeared in London. "I left Belarus, just sat in the car at night, called the plane to Minsk and flew away," he said.

In the spring of 2010, the charges against Gutseriev were completely lifted for lack of corpus delicti, and earlier, in January, he bought out Russneft. But he did not hurry back to Russia. By that time, he had already begun negotiations in Belorussia about the creation of a potash company, which later became Slavkali. "The sediment remained, and I had no desire to invest in Russia," Gutseriev recalls. "I thought that it's necessary to go where I can reach heaven, to the truth, where there is more hope and where it's safer." Why Belarus?

Analyst of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) Alexander Avtushko-Sikorsky says that large investment projects are regulated in Belarus at the very top and presidential decrees are often written under them. Gutseriev, according to Autoushko-Sikorsky, has established himself as a businessman who can be trusted. "The good attitude of the Belarusian president Gutseriev deserved with its reliability," said in a written response to the Forbes questions by the press secretary of Alexander Lukashenko, Natalia Eismont. - This is a person whom the president of Belarus strictly trusts. I will give just one example, when Gutseriev was tasked to modernize Mozyr Oil Refinery. The task was completed, as, indeed, everything promised by Mikhail Safarbekovich. "

Gutseriev became a frequent guest in Belarus and the president of the country since 2000. Then he, the vice-speaker of the State Duma from the LDPR, was appointed president of the company Slavneft, in whose capital 74.95% belonged to Russia, and 10.83% to Belorussia. Belarusian companies extracted oil in Russia, and processed its houses at the Mozyr Refinery (42.5% belonged to Slavneft).

"I started with the construction in Belarus of petrol stations and oil depots, modernization of the refinery," Gutseriev recalls. "Investments in the country began to grow dramatically, which became the basis for our good relations with Alexander Grigorievich." More than $ 100 million was invested in the modernization of the Mozyr refinery at Gutseriev, the depth of oil refining increased from 66% to 82%.

In 2002, despite Lukashenka's objections, Gutseriev was removed from his post in Slavneft, one of the reasons for the discontent of the Russian authorities was Lukashenka's public support for the elections. To Gutseriev's surprise, Lukashenka's attitude to him after his resignation remained the same. "He never measures a person according to his post," says Gutseriev. "Even if you lost your job, but behave honestly and decently, nothing will change, you will be on good terms with him."

To a kind attitude Gutseriev reciprocated. Not without benefits for themselves. In 2002, when there was a shortage of export oil pipeline capacities in Russia, Gutseriev, simultaneously with the creation of Russneft, began building a railway oil terminal near the border with Belarus in the Bryansk region. Investments in the terminal amounted to $ 90 million. Two years later, Transneft increased the patency of the export pipe, and the loading of Gutseriev's terminal fell. And then Gutseriev presented 25% of the terminal of the company "Belorusneft" and created a joint venture with it to deliver raw materials to the Mozyr refinery. In 2006, two oil spills occurred on the Transneft pipelines in the Bryansk region, and the loading of the railway terminal again increased.

Potassium wars

The president of Belarus had other reasons to enlist the support of a member of the Russian Forbes list. By the end of 2010 billionaire Suleiman Kerimov and his partners bought controlling stakes in the largest producers of potash fertilizers in Russia, Uralkali and Silvinit, and merged the companies on the basis of Uralkali. It turned out to be a powerful player with an annual output of more than 10 million tons. Since 2005, Uralkali and the state-owned Belaruskali (production volume of 8 million tons) have been in the cartel, exporting products through the Belorussian Potash Company (BKK ). It was a giant world trader. The share of BPC in the world market reached 43%. It seemed that Alexander Lukashenko could rejoice: the position of the BPC on the market has strengthened. But it turned out differently.

Already in April 2011, at a meeting with the new leadership of Uralkali, the Belarusian president accused BPC of the fact that the trader does not have his own railway and port infrastructure, and later that he "did not learn how to trade." Lukashenka needed more exports, while Uralkali preferred to keep prices down.

When in October 2011 Belarus signed an investment contract with Slavkali, in its conditions it was stipulated that all potassium would be exported through the BCC with the consent of the company itself. The output of Slavkaliya to its designed capacity was expected not earlier than 2017, besides, its production volume is several times less than that of large players. Therefore, the Russian competitors were of little interest. Kerimov then set his sights on a more tasty piece, he wanted to buy Belaruskali. In October 2011, indignant Lukashenka told a news conference that some Russian investors had offered him to sell the company for $ 15 billion, while $ 10 billion would go to the budget of Belarus, and $ 5 billion to "me where I will tell." The offer was allegedly handed to him by "Misha's friend." Lukashenka said: "I told my friend:" Misha, do you know what is happening to those who come with such proposals? "He replied:" Put on your handcuffs. " The president of the republic believed that Belaruskali is worth $ 30 billion. The Belarusian media suggested that Gutseriev was "a friend", but he did not comment on this press conference.

The situation was heated. In December, Lukashenka signed a decree that allowed "Belaruskali" to export products bypassing the BPC. The management of Uralkali tried to negotiate with the Belarusians, a conciliation commission was created, but all in vain. In July 2013, the board of directors and top management of Uralkali led by Vladislav Baumgertner struck back: the company officially announced withdrawal from the cartel and refusal to support the price in exchange for market share. Capitalization of the largest potash companies that day fell by $ 20 billion. Baumgertner predicted that by the end of the year the price of potassium would triple, to $ 300. "Further, we are waiting for a total revision of greenfield projects," Baumgertner said in an interview with Vedomosti. - People will need time to realize that this is not a joke, not a temporary quarrel between "Uralkali" and "Belaruskali". Most greenfield project owners will recount their economies and will be forced to close these projects, writing off what was invested. " "Slavkali" was at that time just such a greenfield project. In August 2013, Baumgartner, who came to negotiations with the Prime Minister of Belarus, was arrested and placed in jail. He was accused of abuse of office.

So the situation has radically changed. Now Kerimov began to look for a buyer for Uralkali. Lukashenka made it clear that Mikhail Gutseriev would have arranged it in this capacity. Gutseriev, according to the Forbes source, applied for a loan to Sberbank, but he was allegedly dissuaded from the deal by German Gref, promising to provide funding for Slavkaliya. As a result, a controlling stake in Uralkali (when valuing the whole company at $ 20 billion) was purchased from Kerimov by billionaires Mikhail Prokhorov and Dmitry Mazepin, later a share bought by businessman Prokhorov was close to Mazepin businessman Dmitry Lobyak. The tandem of Uralkali and Belaruskali has not recovered so far.

The main investor of Belarus

"You are one of the few who received Belarusian minerals," Alexander Lukashenko told Gutseriev, signing a decree on the preparation of the Slavkali investment agreement with Belarus. The project is not easy. Sberbank eventually refused to finance Gutseriev's project. The bank noted that relations with customers are not commented on. Gutseriev also said that Sberbank was unable to finance the project because of a drop in the price of potassium, under the new conditions, the financial model presented to it did not work.

Under the 2011 investment agreement, Gutseriev pledged not only to invest in the development of the potash deposit, but also to spend $ 250 million on infrastructure projects in the country. While in Luban were preparing works, he built a hotel in Minsk Renaissance for 260 rooms, a terminal for business aviation in the capital's airport, a business center, rebuilt the recreation center of the presidential administration "Krasnoselskoe" in the estate with the house receptions. All this cost him $ 180 million. In turn, the facilities are still almost $ 100 million, says the billionaire: a school for $ 12 million, a 40-apartment house in Lubani, a church.

Lukashenka freed the Slavkali from compulsory tax payments and extended the term of the contract, because the GOK did not have time to build. "We invest more than $ 850 million in funds," Gutseriev said. - Of these, $ 600 million is an investment in the Slavkali project. In the local press he is called "the main investor of Belarus".

The main creditor of the project was the State Development Bank of China. Gutseriev does not give details of negotiations with the Chinese. "It's not easy to persuade a girl to marry and it's not easy," he jokes, "and getting the state bank $ 1.5 billion to invest in another country is like convincing 100,000 girls to get married." The Belarusian government, the Ministry of Finance and the Ambassador of Belarus in China helped in preparing the talks. According to Gutseriev, he himself flew regularly for six months to negotiate. "I flew by a plane, because it's far, expensive," says the businessman. - And with a sick knee. As I recall, it's already bad. "

In May 2015, the negotiations were crowned with success, and in June 2016 the State Development Bank of China and Belarusbank, through which money will go under the guarantees of the Belarusian government, signed a loan agreement. The construction of the "Slavkaliya" complex is allocated $ 1.4 billion at 4% per annum. The refund is provided for 14 years with a five-year grace period. At the same time, Slavkali signed a contract for 25 years supplying all future products to China - up to 2 million tons per year. After this, the construction went into the active stage.

On the future price of deliveries of products "Slavkaliya" under the Chinese contract Gutseriev says only that they expected their economic model from today's prices $ 240-250 per ton. According to the general director of Slavkalia, Igor Kozhich, the company will use a special method of ore dressing, which allows increasing the content of the useful component in fertilizer to 99.5-99.7%. Gutseriev argues that the production cost of "Slavkaliya" will be lower than that of competitors.