Itochu, KKR may jointly bid for Bellsystem24

Japanese trading firm Itochu is in talks with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. to form a joint bid for Citigroup Inc.’s Bellsystem24, in what might be the largest private equity deal in Japan this year, sources say.

U.S. buyout giant KKR and European firm Permira have emerged as the most aggressive contenders for the purchase of Bellsystem24, which is expected to be worth about $1.5 billion, according to a recent Reuters report.

The transaction is part of Citigroup’s global effort to unload assets to bolster its capital base and the highest-profile deal handled so far by private equity arm Nikko Principal Investments Japan.

KKR, which opened its Tokyo office in 2006, but which has not yet made a major deal in Japan, was not immediately available for comment. Itochu, which already has some business ties with Bellsystem24, a leading telemarketer, declined to comment.

KKR has hired Morgan Stanley as its financial advisor for the proposed bid and Permira has appointed JPMorgan, say the sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Other banks are pitching KKR for additional financial advisory roles as some of them believe the tie-up between KKR and Itochu, which has experience in running a similar business to Bellsystem24, may have a greater chance of winning, said the sources.

The sources declined to be identified as the bidding process is confidential.

Bellsystem, which operates call centers, competes against Moshi Moshi Hotline Inc. and Transcosmos Inc.

The deal is also drawing attentions from other private equity funds and potential strategic buyers, which have been doing due diligence in recent weeks, the seller has set Sept. 1 as the deadline to receive the first round of bids, the sources say.

Citigroup tried to sell Bellsystem24 last year, but its initial attempts stalled over price concerns. —Reuters