Top shareholder of South Korea's Asiana Airlines starts stake sale: parent group

FILE PHOTO: An Asiana Airlines Boeing 747-400 taxis at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, February 7, 2015. REUTERS/Louis Nastro/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) - The top shareholder of Asiana Airlines Inc 020560.KS has kicked off the sale of its stake in the debt-laden South Korean carrier, an official at Asiana's parent group said on Thursday.

Kumho Industrial Co Ltd 002990.KS currently holds 33% of the conglomerate's crown jewel carrier, a stake worth 448 billion won ($379.6 million) as of Wednesday's closing price.

Kumho Asiana Group, the South Korean No.2 carrier’s parent conglomerate, has been struggling with debt from an aggressive acquisition spree about a decade ago. It has agreed to sell Asiana under pressure from its lead creditor.

The official did not provide further details of the timeline of the bidding process but said the schedule would “stay flexible.”

Kumho Industrial on Thursday sought letters of intent from potential buyers and said it was open to preliminary bids.

Its main creditor, Korea Development Bank, said in April that Asiana creditors were targeting the sale of the airline and its two budget affiliates over the next six months.

South Korea’s SK Group and Hanwha Group, named as potential buyers in South Korean media reports, have said they are not interested in buying the loss-making airline. Under South Korean law, foreign investors can run but not wholly own a South Korean airline.

The Asiana conglomerate’s chairman, Park Sam-koo, stepped down from his chief executive posts of Asiana Airlines and Kumho Industrial in March, after an accounting debacle rekindled concern about the group’s liquidity.

Reporting by Sangmi Cha; editing by Ju-min Park and Stephen Coates