* Serbia offering 58 percent stake in biggest telecom provider
* PM: expects more than previous 1.1 bln euro bid for 51 pct stake
* Investment funds, U.S. firms among suitors (Updates with minister, details)
By Ivana Sekularac
BELGRADE, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Serbia said on Wednesday it had received eight non-binding bids for a majority stake in its biggest telecom provider and that it expected the sale to reap more than the 1.1 billion euros offered and rejected four years ago.
The conservative government of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic is trying to cash in on Telekom Srbija, one of the country’s most profitable state enterprises, under a drive to reduce the state’s footprint on the economy.
Rasim Ljajic, Serbia’s minister of telecommunications, trade and tourism, said the government had received eight bids and would name those that met the tender’s conditions next week.
A previous government tried to sell 51 percent of Telekom in 2011 but ended up rejecting a 1.1 billion euro ($1.23 billion) bid by Telekom Austria as too low.
The current government is offering a 58 percent stake in the company, which is a majority stakeholder in Bosnia’s second-largest telecom operator, Telekom Srpske, and controls Montenegrin mobile operator M:Tel.
Telekom Srbija employs around 8,600 people and reported a 13 percent increase in net profit in 2014 to 17.804 billion dinars ($165.74 million).
“We expect a significantly higher offer,” Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told a news conference, referring to the failed 2011 bid. “If we don’t get that we will not sell,” he said.
A company source told Reuters there were more investment funds among the bidders than telecom companies. The government has said that several U.S.-based firms are interested.
The Serbian daily Vecernje Novosti reported that Telekom Slovenia was among those interested, a report Telekom Slovenia declined to comment on. The paper said Deutsche Telekom and Telekom Austria, both reported to have been interested, had pulled out of the race.
A spokeswoman for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) indicated the bank was considering taking part in the sale, telling Reuters that it was “ready to support the authorities in privatisation of Telekom Srbija and will be considering working with selected bidders.” ($1 = 0.8973 euros) (Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Matt Robinson and David Evans)