Italy's UniCredit is looking for partners interested in its unit that manages problematic debt for the group and other entities and will ask for bids by the end of February, according to a Reuters report.

Italy's biggest bank by assets, which already is working on several transactions to move bad debt off its balance sheet, aims to find buyers for part or all of its Credit Management Bank unit, according to sources quoted in the story.

UniCredit declined to comment.

The unit, based in Verona, manages more than $54.4 billion in bad debt.

The deal could be a way for UniCredit to loosen capital that is held to back the problematic loans managed by the unit. Selling a stake could pave the way for the investor taking up parts of UniCredit's bad-debt portfolio in the future, according to one source.

A top executive at Italy's Cerved Group, a company that provides business data to clients and advises banks and companies on credit management, in December told Reuters it was interested in Credit Management Bank.

The disposal of a stake in Credit Management Bank would add to other initiatives UniCredit is working on to improve the management of its loans and to free up funds to increase lending to Italian companies.

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