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Mirae  emerges as lead bidder for Anbang's US luxury hotel portfolio

Seoul

MIRAE Asset Financial Group is emerging as the leading bidder for a US luxury hotel portfolio being sold by trouble Chinese insurer Anbang Insurance Group Co, people with knowledge of the matter said.

An affiliate of Mirae is working to arrange financing and reach an agreement on terms of a purchase, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. An acquisition by the South Korean asset manager could value the 15 properties at more than US$5.5 billion, one of the people said.

Anbang hasn't granted exclusivity to Mirae, and at least one other suitor is still actively pursuing the assets, the people said. If talks are successful, Mirae aims to make a nonrefundable deposit by the end of the month, according to one person.

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Anbang bought the properties' owner, Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc, from Blackstone Group Inc for about US$5.5 billion in 2016. The deal was part of a global buying spree that made Anbang synonymous with China's unbridled appetite for international trophy assets. That era ended when Chinese authorities seized control of Anbang and later sentenced chairman Wu Xiaohui to 18 years in prison.

The hotel portfolio also attracted interest from suitors including Brookfield Asset Management Inc and a consortium fronted by a former lieutenant to UK's billionaire Barclay twins, Bloomberg News has reported. The properties include the Westin St Francis in San Francisco, the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, the JW Marriott Essex House in New York and the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

No final agreements have been reached, and another buyer could still emerge, the people said. A representative for Mirae declined to comment. The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, Anbang's ultimate custodian, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment outside regular business hours in Beijing. BLOOMBERG