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Signa Holds Talks to Sell Chrysler Building amid Insolvency

VIENNA, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Insolvent European property company Signa is holding talks to potentially sell its stake in New York's Chrysler Building and is shedding its private jet, its administrator said on Tuesday, a significant development in the salvaging of founder Rene Benko's real estate empire.

The efforts, announced to Signa's creditors in Vienna, mark a first update by the court-appointed insolvency administrator on plans for Signa, the biggest casualty so far of Europe's property crisis.

"A liquidation plan has been initiated for the accelerated sale of investments and assets," the administrator, Christof Stapf, said in statement.

The holding company of Signa - a group of some 1,000 companies, with high-profile projects and department stores across Germany, Austria and Switzerland - filed for insolvency last month with around 5 billion euros ($5.48 billion) in debt.

It was a dramatic stumble in the Austrian conglomerate's two-decade history that underscored the dimming prospects for the broader property sector after a surge in interest rates and construction costs.

In the weeks since, a string of Signa subsidiaries has followed suit with their own insolvency filings, and more are expected. Benko, one of Europe's most prominent property tycoons, was removed from a ranking by Forbes of the world's billionaires, and a top deputy was hastily fired.

In 2019, Signa and New York-based real estate developer RFR Holding acquired the Chrysler Building, the art-deco tower that was the world's tallest building when completed in 1930. Signa and RFR were equal partners in a joint venture.

Tuesday's closed-door meeting in a Vienna court drew a dozen journalists seeking to cover one of Austria's biggest corporate downfalls, but lawyers representing creditors declined to comment as they entered the venue.

In his statement, Stapf underscored Signa's complexity. The holding company invests in 53 companies directly, and indirectly in several hundred more, and an organizational chart runs to 46 pages.

"The holding company has recently only partially fulfilled its control function," Stapf said, recommending a group-wide steering committee for the restructuring of the entire group.

Other assets that may be sold include holdings in media companies, the administrator said, without being more specific. Signa indirectly owns a stake in Austria's most influential tabloid Kronen Zeitung.

($1 = 0.9132 euros)

Reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, and Tom Sims in Frankfurt; editing by Miranda Murray and Bernadette Baum

Source: Reuters

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