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UPDATE 1-Italy's Leonardo to buy 25% stake in German sensor maker Hensoldt

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MILAN, April 24 (Reuters) - Italian defence group Leonardo said on Saturday it agreed to buy a 25.1% stake in German military sensor maker Hensoldt from buyout firm KKR for 23 euros per share in cash, or around 606 million euros ($733 million).

The deal is part of Leonardo’s strategy to strengthen its presence in defence electronic while seeking to divest from businesses which have become non core for the Italian state-controlled group.

“We are excited about the investment in Hensoldt as the catalyst for the establishment of closer cooperation that will further enhance our respective positions in the growing defence electronics market,” chief executive officer Alessandro Profumo said in a statement.

Leonardo and Hensoldt already cooperate in common programs including the Eurofighter Typhoon.

The deal comes just a month after Leonardo postponed a planned U.S. listing of its electronics unit DRS.

It said on Saturday it would maintain a “solid capital structure,” helped by disposals and the DRS listing.

Leonardo will become Hensoldt’s largest investor alongside German state bank KfW, which bought a 25.1% stake in March.

KKR’s vehicle Lux Holding II Sarl will maintain a stake of around 18%, Hensoldt said in a separate statement.

The transaction is expected to be finalised in the second half of this year. Upon completion Leonardo will propose two candidates for Hensoldt’s supervisory board.

Hensoldt this week said KKR was soliciting bids for a 25.1% stake among major European defence contractors and that it was in advanced talks with companies including Leonardo, France’s Thales, Spain’s Indra and Sweden’s Saab .

UBS and Deutsche Bank acted as Leonardo’s lead financial adviser and financial adviser, respectively, it said.

$1 = 0.8265 euros Reporting by Giulio Piovaccari; Editing by Jason Neely and Mike Harrison

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