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By Laura Noonan
LONDON, July 29 U.S. billionaire Wilbur Ross said on Tuesday that he will take a "significant" portion of the 1 billion euros ($1.34 billion) worth of new shares being sold by Bank of Cyprus but that the complexities of the deal made it impossible to say how much at this point.
Bank of Cyprus said on Monday that institutional investors, including some introduced by Ross, wanted to buy 1 billion euros worth of its shares, but might only be able to get 800 million euros worth if existing shareholders also commit more capital.
The development marked a dramatic rehabilitation for a bank that in 2013 was the first euro zone lender to convert large uninsured deposits into bank shares, a move required as a condition of 10 billion euros Cyprus' EU/IMF rescue.
"We're not 100 percent sure of how many shares any of us will end up buying," Ross told Reuters in a telephone interview, agreeing that his own stake would be "sigificant".
"The board (of Bank of Cyprus) will have to decide from whom to take those shares (if existing shareholders want new shares as well)."
Ross said the uncertainty around the exact outcome was the reason that the other investors introduced by him to Bank of Cyprus had not yet been publicly named. Those investors have together committed to buying about 400 million euros worth of shares.
Ross described them as "normal institutions".
"Many of them have invested in banks before, some have invested in Greek banks, some have invested in Irish banks and some have invested in UK banks," he said.
Ross said the new investors would contemplate taking seats on the bank's board, but that any directorships would be subject to regulatory and shareholder approval. "The key thing is the group of investors is going to play an active role in the affairs of the bank," he said.
The 76-year-old, who has invested in other crisis-stricken banks, including Bank of Ireland and Greece's Eurobank , said he had not yet had time to look at Portugal's troubled Banco Espirito Santo, which could announce a capital increase when it publishes half-year results on Wednesday night.
"We're always looking for opportunities," he said of his fund's plans for euro zone bank investments later in 2014. "We're continuing to look at Italian banks, at Spain, at Portugal," he added.
Ross said it was too early to say if his Bank of Cyprus investment would make comparable gains to those of his Bank of Ireland deal, where he made him a profit of 500 million euros on a 290 million euros investment in less than three years.
"Cyprus is a lot closer to recovery than Ireland was when we bought into it," he said, adding that the two countries were in similar situations because their problems were stemmed for a one time event rather than long term dysfunction. (1 US dollar = 0.7457 euros) (Reporting By Laura Noonan; Editing by Greg Mahlich and William Hardy)