(Adds official statement on family stakes in Esselunga)
By Silvia Aloisi and Claudia Cristoferi
MILAN, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The family holding company controlling Italy’s fourth-biggest supermarket chain Esselunga said on Wednesday it would not go ahead for now with a sale of the group after the death of its owner last week.
Ninety-year-old Bernardo Caprotti, who founded Esselunga in 1957, had started talks in recent months with at least four private equity funds - including Blackstone, BC Partners and CVC Capital Partners - over a possible sale for up to 6 billion euros ($7 billion).
A note from the will executor said Caprotti had handed control of Esselunga to his second wife and their daughter, giving them a combined stake of around 70 percent in the holding Supermarkets Italiani.
The note said another two children from his first marriage, Giuseppe Caprotti and Violetta Caprotti, would receive a stake of around 15 percent each.
In a statement, Supermarkets Italiani said its board had decided not to “proceed, as things stand, with operations related to its unit Esselunga”.
Esselunga employs 22,000 people and last year posted sales of more than 7 billion euros.
Caprotti, who died on Friday, had been exploring a sale partly because he did not want to leave the group to his squabbling children, according to sources close to the matter.
Caprotti’s children from his first marriage, Giuseppe and Violetta, had fallen out with their father, taking legal action against him, alleging he had illegally taken shares from a trust in their name in 2011.
So far the courts have sided with the father, though a final appeal is pending.
Caprotti’s other daughter, Marina Sylvia, sits on the board of Esselunga.
Shortly before the founder’s death, Caprotti’s 55-year-old son, Giuseppe, told Reuters he had always opposed a sale of Esselunga.
“We’ll do everything we can to safeguard Esselunga,” he said on Wednesday, without elaborating, as he left the Milanese notary office where the will was read. ($1 = 0.8932 euros) (Editing by Adrian Croft and Hugh Lawson)