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(Adds details from Sears statement, background)
Jan 17 (Reuters) - Sears Holdings Corp Chairman Eddie Lampert won a bankruptcy auction to buy the once iconic U.S. retailer after presenting an improved offer of $5.2 billion, Sears said on Thursday, allowing it to keep its more than 400 stores running.
Sears picked Lampert's hedge fund ESL Investments Inc as the winner at a bankruptcy court-supervised auction after his latest bid topped an earlier $5 billion proposal following weeks of talks.
The deal would preserve up to 45,000 jobs and ESL would acquire substantially all of the company, including its "Go Forward Stores" on a going-concern basis, Sears said.
"We are pleased to have reached a deal that would provide a path for Sears to emerge from the chapter 11 process," the restructuring committee of Sears' board of directors said in a statement.
There remains a chance the deal could fall apart, as it still must be documented and approved by a U.S. bankruptcy judge.
A hearing to approve the sale is currently scheduled for Feb. 1 and, if successful, the transaction is expected to close on or about Feb. 8, Sears said.
Lampert's only challenger in the auction was Sears itself, and how much it would reap in a sale of its businesses and assets in pieces, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.
Sears had believed Lampert's earlier bids fell short of covering the bills the retailer has racked up since filing for bankruptcy protection in October.
More than 20 U.S. retailers, including Sears and Toys 'R' US, have filed for bankruptcy since the start of 2017, succumbing to the onslaught of fierce e-commerce competition from companies like Amazon.com Inc.
Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP provided legal counsel to Sears during the auction. (Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)