October 10, 2016 / 2:57 AM / a year ago

Race for Australia's S. Kidman narrows to country's richest woman

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian company DomaCom has pulled out of a fund-raising effort to purchase S. Kidman and Co, the country’s largest private land holding, chief executive Arthur Naoumidis told Reuters on Monday, after a bid on Sunday from a group led by Australia’s richest woman.

Australian mining heiress and Chairman of Hancock Prospecting group Gina Rinehart prepares to award medals to competitors at the Australian Synchronised Swimming Championships in Sydney, Australia, April 25, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

Previous S. Kidman bidders Hunan Dakang Pasture Farming Co Ltd (Dakang) and Australian Rural Capital Ltd (ARC) have decided not to launch a counter offer and are expected to follow DomaCom’s exit from the bidding, a source at the Hunan and ARC consortium told Reuters.

The decisions remove potential rivals to an A$365 million ($277 million) joint bid announced on Sunday for the politically-sensitive asset lodged by Australia’s richest woman, miner Gina Rinehart, and Chinese developer Shanghai CRED.

The sale of the large rural cattle-ranching holding - about the same size as South Korea - has sparked heated debate over whether key Australian agriculture land and assets should be sold to foreign interests.

In April, the Australian government rejected an offer by a consortium headed by Shanghai CRED, Hunan Dakang and a minority 20 percent Australian interest, the group’s second rejection in six months.

Naoumidis said it would be too difficult for Domacom to compete with the Rinehart-led offer.

“We are winding up our Kidman campaign,” Naoumidis said. “It’s not just majority Australian; it’s Rinehart. She’s politically connected.”

The Rinehart-Shanghai CRED deal requires regulatory approval, but that consortium’s offer - consisting of two-thirds to be owned by the Rinehart-led Hancock Prospecting and one-third by Shanghai CRED - satisfies the government’s preference for S. Kidman to remain at least majority Australian owned.

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry and Christian Schmollinger

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