HSBC group is one of the bidders for Bangkok Metropolitan Bank, Thai Deputy Finance Minister Pisit Leeahtam has confirmed. Mr Pisit said in Hong Kong yesterday the Bank of Thailand was working on the details of the sale and hoped to complete the transaction by the end of next month. The potential acquisition - which is estimated to cost HSBC US$350 million - forms part of Thailand's efforts to reform its financial system after the economy was hit by the Asian financial crisis. Speaking after a seminar yesterday, Mr Pisit declined to disclose further details of the sale, saying only that the transaction had to proceed in a way that provided maximum mutual benefit. Bangkok Metropolitan Bank is Thailand's eighth-largest with assets of about 160 billion baht (HK$32.11 billion). It was bought by the Thai Government two years ago. It has 177 branches, 84 of them in Bangkok. Mr Pisit said the bank was under the control of the Bank of Thailand through an entity established to manage the country's distressed assets. 'We have allowed four local banks to be taken over by foreign banks. We will give equal treatment to foreign and domestic players. This is part of our efforts to reform the financial system,' the deputy Thai minister said. He declined to name other bidders for the bank. Thai newspapers reported this month Bangkok Metropolitan Bank was HSBC's main target in the country because its customer base comprises mostly businesses owned by ethnic Chinese. The reports suggested HSBC was likely to take 75 per cent of the bank for 40 billion baht. However, net investment would only be 13.5 billion baht because the Bank of Thailand would buy back all of the bank's delinquent loans from HSBC for 26.5 billion baht, according to the reports. Under the terms of the International Monetary Fund's 1997 bailout programme, Thailand pledged to sell Bangkok Metropolitan Bank and Siam City Bank by the end of March, but the latest deadline is already nine months behind schedule.