February 21, 2019 / 12:32 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-Sberbank in talks to buy media group Rambler - sources

(Adds details, quotes, context)

By Tatiana Voronova, Polina Nikolskaya and Katya Golubkova

MOSCOW, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Russia's biggest bank Sberbank is in talks to buy Russian media company Rambler Group from businessman Alexander Mamut, several sources close to the matter said.

Sberbank and Rambler said they were not in talks on an acquisition when asked to comment by Reuters. They said they were in talks about Rambler seeking to refinance with Sberbank debt owed to Trust, another Russian bank.

Rambler Group is a smaller rival to Russia's biggest search engine Yandex, in which Sberbank holds a so-called golden share, which gives Sberbank special veto power.

"Sberbank's management is discussing a potential purchase of Rambler. The talks are about the entire holding," a source close to Sberbank said.

Part of Sberbank's management team opposes the acquisition, doubting the benefits of deal particularly from Rambler's media business and cinema chain, the source said.

But Sberbank chief executive German Gref and Lev Khasis, Gref's first deputy, seem to be supporting the potential deal, the source also said.

Rambler Group, which also owns a media-services portal and a news aggregator with the same name, news sites Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru, has been up for sale for some time, industry sources said.

None of the sources disclosed any potential price for the deal as discussions were still at early stage.

In 2017, Vedomosti newspaper had reported that Mamut had bought 50 percent of Rambler Group from businessman Vladimir Potanin for $295 million, becoming its sole owner.

Mamut then added a chain of cinemas to the group. He also bought online cinema, Okko, from Russian firm Era Capital, which received a minority stake in Rambler in exchange, Kommersant daily reported in 2018.

Mamut did not immediately respond to a Reuters' request for a comment. (Reporting by Tatiana Voronova, Polina Nikolskaya, Katya Golubkova and Polina Devitt; editing by Christian Lowe and Jane Merriman)

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