Jinro Ltd. has chosen three candidates to manage its sale, according to sources. The candidates are Merrill Lynch, ABN AMRO Securities and a consortium of Samsung Securities Co. and Citibank, a Jinro official said today. "We will pick the manager next week and get the court's permission next week," he told Asia Pulse.

Over 20 companies had applied to lead-manage the sale of the bankrupt, but profitable company.

Jinro, South Korea's leading distiller of traditional liquor 'soju', has been in court receivership since May last year, with debts amounting to KRW2.37 trillion (US$1.98 bln). The company ran into trouble after branching out into new business areas such as construction, finance, retail and machinery before the country's 1997-98 financial crisis. Earlier this year, Chang Jin-ho, who chaired the company from 1988 to 1997, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for accounting fraud.

Jinro said that the lead manager will receive bids from prospective buyers in September and pick the preferred bidder within this year.

It is predicted that the price of the distiller will range from KRW1.5 trillion to KRW2.5 trillion.

Jinro generates about KRW100 bln in operating profits annually, and sold 18.79 m boxes of soju in the first four months of the year, up 10% year-on-year.