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BARI Italy (Reuters) - ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, has sent a non-binding expression of interest for troubled Italian steelmaker Ilva, trade union sources said on Thursday.
Ilva runs Europe's biggest steel plant in the southern Italian city of Taranto but has for some time been at the center of an environmental scandal.
It was put under special administration last year after magistrates seized 8.1 billion euros ($11 billion) from its owners, the Riva family, amid allegations the plant's toxic emissions caused abnormally high rates of cancer.
"A letter of intent has arrived, and Arcelor will present an industrial plan to the Italian government by the end of September," one of the union sources said.
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on Thursday that the government was eager to bring Italian investors on board alongside ArcelorMittal but added that the letter of intent made no mention of any Italian partner.
ArcelorMittal and the commissioner running Ilva, Piero Gnudi, did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.
In July, Italy's Industry Minister said ArcelorMittal was one of at least four or five companies interested in Ilva.
Ilva, Europe's biggest steel plant by capacity, is one of the largest employers in southern Italy, and Rome is keen to find a solution to the crisis at a time of record-high unemployment.
Italian steel industry body Federacciai recently said the Taranto complex is losing cash at a rate of 60 million to 80 million euros a month, putting its very existence as a going concern at risk.
ArcelorMittal, which previously confirmed the group was invited to look at Ilva by the government, said in August it would move forward only if confident the deal would be good for its business in Europe and create value.
Buying into Ilva would give ArcelorMittal greater control over the price of steel in southern Europe.
(1 US dollar = 0.7476 euro)
Reporting by Vincenzo Damiani, additional reporting by Silvia Antonioli, writing by Stephen Jewkes; editing by Jane Baird