(Recasts to add Safra’s plans, details on BSI sale process, share performance throughout)
By Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Tatiana Bautzer
SAO PAULO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Safra Group, the company running the investments of Lebanese-Brazilian billionaire Joseph Safra, said it has no plans to bid for Swiss private-banking firm BSI Ltd, rebutting a newspaper report on Wednesday stating that a deal was imminent.
A New York-based spokesman for the group said in a statement emailed to Reuters that private bank J Safra Sarasin “and any other part of the Safra Group are not buying, nor are they going to buy, BSI”.
The denial from Safra Group, which has interests in sectors ranging from real estate and global finance to agribusiness, came after the online edition of Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung reported that Brazilian investment bank Grupo BTG Pactual SA had agreed to sell BSI to J Safra Sarasin for an undisclosed sum.
The newspaper said that it obtained the information from “senior sources.” Likewise, Handelszeitung did not report a timetable for the announcement or any terms of the deal.
Joseph Safra is the world’s richest banker with a fortune valued at $14 billion by Forbes Magazine.
A number of unidentified private banking firms remain in the running to acquire BSI, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.
None of those sources disclosed which banks are vying for the lender that BTG Pactual bought in September for about $1.3 billion.
BSI was put on the block after BTG Pactual’s billionaire founder André Esteves was arrested in connection with a corruption probe in Brazil last November, prompting outflows of client and investor capital from the Brazilian bank.
Reuters reported last month that Credit Suisse Group AG , Julius Baer Gruppe AG, Safra Sarasin and China’s Fosun International were among private banking firms interested in buying BSI.
São Paulo-based BTG Pactual, BSI and Julius Baer all declined to comment.
According to the second source, who is not allowed to discuss the issue publicly, BTG Pactual approached officials at J Safra Sarasin a few weeks ago to offer BSI. A third source said BTG Pactual, which is disposing of assets to raise cash and cut debt, wanted to sell BSI at the equivalent of 1.4 percent of BSI’s assets under management, or $1.4 billion.
BTG Pactual purchased BSI in order to get access to a stable stream of fee-based revenues outside of its home turf Brazil, which is struggling with its deepest recession in a quarter century.
Units in BTG Pactual, a blend of voting and non-voting shares in the Brazilian firm’s banking and private-equity divisions, shed 0.6 percent to 14.51 reais. The stock is down almost 50 percent since Esteves’ Nov. 25 detention. (Additional reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and Oliver Hirt in Zurich and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by David Goodman, Jeffrey Benkoe and Andrew Hay)