Swiss bank BancaStato makes a play for BTG Pactual's BSI


By Joshua Franklin and Guillermo Parra-Bernal

BERNE/SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Switzerland's BancaStato has emerged as a prospective buyer of BSI, the Swiss private bank bought last year for $1.3 billion by Brazil's embattled Grupo BTG Pactual SA , while bigger rival Julius Baer suggested it would not be bidding.

BTG Pactual has been selling various assets to raise cash and restore investor confidence after billionaire founder André Esteves was arrested in November in connection with a corruption probe in Brazil.

On Thursday Banca dello Stato del Cantone Ticino (BancaStato) said it was making a non-binding offer for BSI in partnership with two other parties.

"BancaStato sent a non-binding letter of intent for the acquisition of the capital stock of BSI SA. Given its scope, the transaction is coordinated with two important partners, and the bank has informed the State Council of the steps taken," said the bank, which like BSI is based in the Italian-speaking southern Swiss state of Ticino.

A statement on its website called the step "an excellent investment opportunity that is of interest to the whole financial sector and the state can avoid the dismemberment of BSI SA".

BTG Pactual said earlier that its board had authorised a potential sale of BSI after unidentified third parties expressed an interest in acquiring it but could not be certain a deal would be done.

The news came just after Julius Baer Chief Executive Boris Collardi sought to dampen speculation that his bank was in the hunt.

"I just refer back to the only ever comment I made about this, we are not really interested," Collardi told reporters on Thursday on the sidelines of a private banking news conference.

"It is always the same. Everybody talks to us about anything that is for sale. And even if we say we are not really interested we are always rumoured to be interested."

On Wednesday Safra Group, the company running the investments of Lebanese-Brazilian billionaire Joseph Safra, had also said it had no plans to bid for BSI, rebutting a newspaper report that a deal was imminent.

Reuters reported last month that Credit Suisse Group AG , Julius Baer, Safra Sarasin and China's Fosun International <0656.HK> were among private banking firms interested in buying BSI.


On other matters, Collardi told reporters that a final resolution of the Zurich-based bank's U.S. tax case was "weeks and not months" away.

Late last year Baer reached an agreement in principle with U.S. authorities to settle an investigation into allegations it helped wealthy American clients evade taxes.

"We're now waiting to be able to go over and to have the closing signing procedure. I'm not expecting now to have another round of negotiations or anything. It's pretty final."

(Additional reporting by Rupert Pretterklieber in Zurich; Editing by Michael Shields and Greg Mahlich)