MILAN, Feb 8 (Reuters) - The Qatar sovereign fund is in talks with the main shareholder of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena to buy a 15-20 percent stake in the troubled Italian lender ahead of its much-awaited rights issue, daily Il Messaggero said on Saturday.
Loss-making Monte dei Paschi, which received 4.1 billion euros ($5.58 billion) of state aid last year after being hit by the sovereign debt crisis and a derivatives scandal, is looking to raise 3 billion euros in fresh capital.
But the bank was forced to delay the cash call until mid-2014 after its top investor with 33.5 percent, a charitable foundation with links to local politicians, said it needed more time to sell down its stake to pay back creditors.
Without naming a source, the paper said investment bank Lazard, an advisor to the foundation, had restarted talks with the Qatari fund which began last year on the basis of a price of 0.20-0.21 euro per share, valuing a 15-20 percent stake in the bank at 368-490 million euros.
The paper added, however, that this was above the 0.15-0.16 euros per share the Qatari fund was willing to offer.
Monte Paschi shares closed at 0.18 euros on Friday.
The foundation declined to comment on the report, but has previously said that talks with foreign investors were ongoing. The Qatar fund could not immediately be reached.
The report also said the Qatari fund might be willing to subscribe to a portion of unsubscribed shares in Monte Paschi's cash call, hoping to take its stake in Italy's third-largest bank to 25 percent.
Both the bank's chairman and chief executive said at an event on Saturday they hoped the foundation will conclude the sale of its shares as soon as possible so the bank's ownership structure can be established ahead of the rights issue.
Apart from Monte Paschi, the newspaper report said the Qatari fund was also looking at other Italian banks and was "very active" on UniCredit, the country's biggest lender by assets, in which it was considering buying a stake.
The fund was also looking at possible investments in smaller lenders Banca Carige and Banco Popolare. According to the report, the fund had already expressed an interest in participating in Banco Popolare's 1.5 billion euro capital increase due in April.
Apart from the Qatar fund, Lazard has also sounded out a sovereign fund in Oman about buying Monte Paschi foundation's shares in the bank, the paper said. ($1 = 0.7343 euros) (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak in Milan and Stefano Bernabei in Rome; Editing by Stephen Powell)