* PetroChina, Exxon Mobil, Shell seen as possible suitors
* First round bids due March 14
By Denny Thomas
HONG KONG, March 5 (Reuters) - U.S. oil and gas explorer Anadarko Petroleum Corp and Indian billionaire Venugopal Dhoot have launched the auction of a 20 percent stake in a Mozambique gas field that could fetch $4.5 billion, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The Rovuma offshore field is drawing major interest after recent discoveries boosted Mozambique's gas reserves to around 150 trillion cubic feet, enough to supply number one importer Japan for 35 years. The east African country is expected to compete with Australia and Qatar as a major provider of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia in the future.
PetroChina and Exxon Mobil Corp are among suitors expected to submit indicative proposals, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Royal Dutch Shell PLC , which last year missed out on a stake in the same field when it lost a takeover battle for Cove Energy Plc, is also interested, they added.
Shell and Exxon declined to comment. PetroChina officials were not available for comment.
Dhoot, who controls consumer electronics to mobile-phone services conglomerate Videocon Group, is leading the process and has hired two investment banks to handle the sale, the sources added.
First round bids are due on March 14 after an information memorandum on the sale was sent to potential bidders in early February, one of the sources added.
Anadarko CEO Al Walker last month told an earnings conference call that the company was looking to sell a 10 percent interest in the block, taking the firm's stake to 26.5 percent.
Anadarko, the project operator, has the highest interest, while Japan's Mitsui & Co Ltd is the second-biggest holder with a 20 percent stake. Together with ENI SpA which owns an adjacent field and is cooperating on building gas liquefaction facilities, Anadarko hopes to ship out first LNG in 2018.
Mozambique has a competitive advantage over America and European countries in supplying LNG to gas-hungry Asian markets due to its proximity, one reason why global energy majors are expected to take active interest in the sale, sources say.
Last year, Thailand state oil company PTT Energy trumped Shell to take control of Cove Energy and its 8.5 percent stake in the field for $1.9 billion. On a similar valuation the 20 percent stake on offer could fetch about $4.5 billion, sources said.
Videocon is seeking about $2.5-$3 billion for its 10 pct stake, though sources warned buyers are unlikely to pay a huge premium over what PTT paid.
"PTT paid what was a good price, but to get to a $3 billion price tag is difficult," one person familiar with the process said.
A spokesman for Anadarko did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday, while Dhoot declined to comment.
Dhoot paid $75 million for the Rovuma 1 stake in 2008.
India state-owned refiner Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd owns another 10 percent stake in gas project.