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UPDATE 1-BlackRock, Varde set to submit bids for Italy's Carige -sources

Andrea Mandala and Gianluca Semeraro

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MILAN, March 25 (Reuters) - U.S. funds Varde Partners and BlackRock plan to submit rival bids for troubled Italian lender Banca Carige by mid-April, three sources close to the matter said on Monday.

The European Central Bank on Jan. 2 placed Italy's 10th largest bank under special administration and asked it to find a buyer to stave off the risk of state intervention.

The Genoa-based bank has said it needs to raise 630 million euros ($713 million) in capital after reporting a 2018 loss of 273 million euros. It has 3.5 billion euros in bad loans and has already launched three cash calls since 2014.

BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, is particularly interested in Carige's bad loans and in its private banking unit Banca Cesare Ponti, two of the sources said.

Apollo Global Management, which already owns Carige's insurance units, had initially also expressed an interest in buying the bank, but has now pulled out, one source said. Apollo had no immediate comment.

Carige declined to comment.

The bidders face two potential hurdles.

One is Carige's biggest investor, the Malacalza family, which owns 27.5 percent of the bank and in December voted against a capital increase.

Any bidder would need to get the Malacalzas on board to succeed or it would risk being voted down at a shareholder meeting called to approve the deal.

The family could buy into the capital increase to avoid being heavily diluted. It has invested more than 400 million euros in Carige since 2015 to build a stake, which was worth 23 million euros before trading in the stock was halted when the bank was placed under special administration.

The second potential problem is the price at which either Varde or BlackRock would buy the bank's bad loans.

The 630-million-euro capital hole has been calculated on the basis of an offer for 1.9 billion euros worth of bad loans that Carige has already received from state-owned debt recovery specialist SGA, a company owned by the Italian treasury.

Should Varde or BlackRock offer a lower price for the soured debts, where funds typically aim to make big returns, the capital shortfall would be bigger.

The SGA offer remains on the table to give Carige's commissioners the option of selling a cleaned-up bank or if a private takeover fails and the bank needs an injection of state money.

Under a January emergency decree, Italy's government can buy up to 1 billion euros worth of Carige's shares. ($1 = 0.8840 euros) (Additional reporting by Stefano Bernabei in Rome and Pamela Barbaglia in London, editing by Silvia Aloisi and Susan Fenton)