ING, BNP interested in buying Rabobank's Polish arm -sources

WARSAW, July 9 Tue Jul 9, 2013 11:10am EDT

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WARSAW, July 9 (Reuters) - ING Groep and BNP Paribas are interested in buying Polish bank BGZ if parent Rabobank puts it up for sale, two sources said, in a deal that would mark further consolidation in the country's banking sector.

Foreign banks control most of the Polish banking sector, but several are seeking to pull out of the country to boost capital positions hit by the global economic crisis.

Those remaining are using such opportunities to strengthen their positions in the sector, which for years has been under strict regulator supervision and has been relatively healthy in comparison with those of many other European nations.

Rabobank, the Netherlands' largest retail bank, said last month it was "looking at strategic options" for its mid-sized Polish subsidiary after local media reported it may sell the unit this year in a deal that could be worth about 2.8 billion zlotys ($828 million).

"ING and BNP are the ones to watch. They are the most interested in BGZ," a legal source in the industry said.

A banking source said: "ING has been struggling to persuade Amsterdam and Brussels to lift the investment ban put on them in relation to the state aid they received. For them, BGZ would give them the scale they need to reach third position in the Polish banking sector in terms of assets."

ING and BNP declined to comment on the matter. Both have Polish outlets - ING Bank Slaski and BNP Paribas Bank Polska.

ING was bailed out by the Dutch state in 2008. The European Commission has ordered several banks that took state aid to sell assets, and also imposed restrictions on some that prevents them paying dividends, offering market-leading rates of interest or making acquisitions.

European Commission competition policy spokesman Antoine Colombani also declined to comment, but said ING's restructuring plan approved by the EU regulator in 2012 keeps the acquisition ban in place until 2015 unless the bank can prove buying a rival is key to preserving financial stability or market competition.

BNP is one of the best-capitalised banks in Europe with a 10 percent Tier 1 capital ratio, in line with Swiss UBS and ahead of domestic peers Societe Generale and semi-cooperative Credit Agricole.

Western banks entered Poland in the mid 1990s after the country overturned communism and encouraged them to invest in ailing Polish banks.

In recent years, Commerzbank's BRE Bank, Millennium BCP's Bank Millennium and UniCredit's Bank Pekao have all been tipped to be put up for sale. But few deals have actually materialised.

Banco Santander last year trumped Poland's largest bank PKO BP to buy Bank Zachodni WBK and merged it with KBC's Kredyt Bank.

State-controlled giant PKO fought back last month when it snatched Swedish Nordea's Polish business for 2.83 billion zlotys.

($1 = 3.3821 Polish zlotys) ($1 = 0.7773 euros) (Writing by Adrian Krajewski; Additional reporting by Sara Webb in Amsterdam, Foo Yun Chee in Brussels, Laurent Lionel and Christian Plumb in Paris; Editing by Pravin Char)

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