Tokyo: Citigroup Inc has started the process to sell Japanese telemarketer Bellsystem24 in what could be the largest private equity deal in Japan this year, three people with direct knowledge of the deal said.
The sale of Bellsystem24 Inc was originally scheduled for last year but was delayed as the credit crisis deepened, making it difficult for would-be buyers to procure funds.
Citigroup has been unloading its assets globally to bolster its capital. Bellsystem24 was the core investment made by Nikko Principal Investments Japan, a private equity arm of Citigroup.
Last month Citigroup agreed to sell Nikko Asset Management to Sumitomo Trust Banking Co. In May it announced the sale of retail broker Nikko Cordial and part of the operation of Nikko Citigroup, the investment banking arm of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group.
Sale advisers have asked potential bidders to sign an confidentiality agreement, the initial step in the official bidding process, the people said.
Nikko Citigroup and Goldman Sachs Group Inc are advising on the sale of Bellsystem24, sources had told Reuters in June. At that time they said the deal could be worth $1.5 billion.
Permira, Bain Capital, Carlyle Group and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co are potential bidders, they said, asking not to be identified because the process is not public.
A spokeswoman for Bellsystem24 and a Citigroup spokesman in Tokyo both declined to comment.
Nikko Principal Investments owns a 94% stake in the Japanese telemarketer, which has the largest share in Japan’s telemarketing industry.
Bellsystem, which operates call centres, competes against Moshi Moshi Hotline Inc and Transcosmos Inc. Nikko Principal initially owned 71.73% of Bellsystem24. In 2004 NPI bought a larger stake for ¥28,000 ($294) per share, valuing the company at ¥151 billion yen.