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S.Korea's IMM draws interest from KKR, others for $1 billion stake in AirFirst -sources

By Kane Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) -South Korean's IMM Private Equity has drawn interest from funds including KKR & Co, MBK Partners and Brookfield Asset Management for a minority stake in local industrial gas company AirFirst which it aims to sell for $1 billion, three people with knowledge of the deal said.

The buyout firm is expecting first-round, non-binding bids by March 16, said the sources, who declined to be identified as the information is confidential.

IMM PE acquired the South Korean assets of German industrial gases group Linde for $1.2 billion in 2019 and rebranded the company as AirFirst.

The firm is targeting a valuation of over 4 trillion won ($3 billion) for the whole company in the sale and the actual amount of shares it sells will depend on negotiations with buyers, said two of the sources, adding IMM wants to offload roughly a third of the company.

Other potential bidders include BlackRock Inc and infrastructure-focused investment firm Stonepeak, said the sources.

Neither AirFirst nor IMM PE were immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters.

KKR, Brookfield and MBK declined to comment. BlackRock and Stonepeak did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

AirFirst's businesses originally date back to 1975, according to its website. It is both a manufacturer and supplier of industrial gases.

Established in 2006, IMM PE is one of South Korea's major homegrown investors focusing on both buyouts and growth investments in the country with $7.4 billion total assets under management.

The AirFirst investment was made via its third and fourth flagship funds, IMM's website shows.

(Reporting by Kane Wu in Hong Kong; additional reporting by Heekyong Yang in Seoul; Editing by Kim Coghill)