Three billionaires who control some of Thailand’s largest conglomerates have entered formal expressions of interest in taking over the Thai and Malaysian operations of Tesco, the British supermarket giant.

Subject to regulatory approval, Tesco’s disposal of its 2,000-strong Tesco Lotus chain in Thailand as well its 74 stores in Malaysia could become one of the biggest deals in Asia this year, according to the Financial Times.

Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer which has been operating in Thailand since 1994, announced in December last year that it was reviewing its Thai and Malaysian operations after receiving interest from potential bidders.

The company has been shifting focus to its core British, Irish and central European markets in recent years as part of a major turnaround programme, and has already sold off its businesses in China, Japan and South Korea.

It has now emerged that the three Thai companies competing to take over Tesco’s profitable Southeast Asian business are Charoen Pokphand, Central Group and TCC Group.

Family-owned Charoen Pokphand is Thailand’s largest private company and includes the 7-Eleven convenience store chain among its many interests.

Central Group is controlled by the Chirathivat family and is Thailand’s biggest department store operator, while TCC Group is controlled by billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi whose business empire includes Big C, the country’s second-largest hypermarket operator after Tesco Lotus, and the ThaiBev brewery.

Dhanin Chearavanont, chairman of Charoen Pokphand (CP Group) sold a controlling stake in Tesco Lotus to Tesco during the Asian financial crisis of 1998 and he has since repeatedly spoken of his interest in buying it back.

According to the Financial Times, the three groups have now submitted their first-round bids and final bids are expected to be lodged by the end of this month or early March.

“There is genuine interest in the assets at a valuation level that could be of interest to Tesco,” said one of the FT’s sources. Estimates of the value of a deal range from $7bn to $10bn.

Sourced from Financial Times, BBC; additional content by WARC staff