3 Min Read
* Says made non-binding offer
* Due diligence pending
* Axel Springer declines comment on price (Adds statement from WAZ shareholder)
By Nicola Leske and Peter Dinkloh
FRANKFURT, Sept 30 (Reuters) - German publisher Axel Springer AG (SPRGn.DE) has made an offer for parts of WAZ media group, one of the country's largest publishing houses, setting up a bid battle with a WAZ shareholder.
A spokeswoman for Axel Springer on Friday confirmed a media report, saying the Berlin-based publisher made an offer and that due diligence was still pending, declining to say how much money Springer had offered.
German monthly magazine Manager had reported, citing a letter from Axel Springer Chief Executive Officer Mathias Dopfner, that Axel Springer was planning to buy WAZ stakes in Austrian publications Krone and Kurier, several German regional papers and WAZ's magazine business.
The magazine said Dopfner would not rule out an offer for the whole company, even though he expects such a move to be resisted by anti-trust regulators, and that he would value the group at about 1.4 billion euros ($1.88 billion).
A person close to Axel Springer confirmed that valuation and that the cartel office would likely criticise such an offer.
The bid comes a month after WAZ shareholder Petra Grotkamp -- part of one of two groups of inheritors that own WAZ -- had offered 500 million euros for 50 percent of WAZ.
Grotkamp said on Friday that the publications Springer was bidding for were not for sale, that the valuation was "incorrect" and that Springer could not become a shareholder in WAZ Group because of the company's partnership agreements.
"Mrs. Petra Grotkamp would not take part in transactions that would lead to a break up of WAZ Group or the sale of the group," she said in an emailed statement.
WAZ media group is based in Essen in the central part of the Ruhr area, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It owns more than 500 newspapers and magazines in Germany, Austria, eastern Europe and Russia, as well as online sites and radio channels.
It was started in 1948 when Erich Brost, a journalist, received a licence from the British forces to launch a newspaper called Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) -- still its flagship daily today.
Two years earlier, journalist Axel Springer founded the group carrying his name, the publisher of Europe's best-selling tabloid Bild.
The company has steadily sought to offset declining sales at home in its print business by expanding into eastern Europe and teaming up with Swiss publisher Ringier in a joint venture, making WAZ group's stable of newspapers and magazines in Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary a good fit.
In addition, Axel Springer has continuously broadened its digital operations by buying into women's online magazine gofeminin, and acquiring French online property advertising company Seloger.
$1 = 0.745 Euros Reporting by Peter Maushagen, Nicola Leske and Peter Dinkloh; Editing by David Hulmes