(Adds full name of CEO in third paragraph)
CERNOBBIO, Italy, April 5 UniCredit is trying to sell a chunk of its non-performing loans together with its debt collection unit, the chief executive of the Italian bank said on Saturday, citing strong investor interest for distressed assets in the country.
Italy's biggest lender by assets had given prospective buyers until last Thursday to send non-binding offers for its Credit Management Bank unit, which manages more than a third of Italy's non-performing loans.
"We are still at a very preliminary stage, but investor interest appears to be high," CEO Federico Ghizzoni said, adding the bank is seeking a partner for its unit to make it even more efficient.
"Another reason for the sale is to try to shed some of our doubtful loans to address Italian banks' main problem," he said, speaking on the sidelines of a business conference in Cernobbio, on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy.
Lenders in the country had accumulated non-performing loans worth 160.4 billion euros ($219.6 billion) on their balance-sheets as of January.
With Italy slowly emerging from a two-year recession, banks are trying to shed some of these assets to make space for fresh lending to companies.
Sources close to the situation told Reuters UniCredit has put on the block a non-performing loan portfolio of around 4 billion euros, together with a majority stake in its Verona-based unit.
Ghizzoni declined to comment either on the size of the portfolio under disposal or the value of the unit.
Credit Management Bank manages more than 40 billion euros of commercial and consumer loans, of which around one quarter was directly owned by the unit at the end of 2012.
UniCredit's CEO also refused to give any details on the strategy of the bank regarding its asset manager Pioneer Investment, after a person familiar with the matter said on Wednesday Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC) was considering a bid for the unit. ($1 = 0.7303 Euros) (Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by David Holmes)