Department store chain House of Fraser was today being linked to a £450 million takeover by a conglomerate little known outside China.
Nanjing-based Sanpower, which has more than 100 businesses in mainland China including shopping centres, is in advanced talks over a surprise swoop for the UK high street chain, the Sunday Times said.
The discussions have been taking place as House of Fraser also considers a separate plan for a summer flotation on the London Stock Exchange.
However it is believed that Sanpower's offer has already been accepted by House of Fraser chairman Don McCarthy, whose family control 20% of the UK company which also owns the Beatties store in Wolverhampton.
The proposals are now being presented to other shareholders, including Icelandic banks and Scottish entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter, who holds a stake amounting to more than 10%.
House of Fraser, which generates sales of £1.2 billion a year and employs 7,300 people as well as 12,000 concession staff at 61 stores, has held a protracted search for new investors in the last year.
France's Galeries Lafayette, which has 65 stores, had exclusivity on talks with House of Fraser until the end of January. The chain is also believed to have h eld informal takeover talks with Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley.
The department store retailer, which is 161 years old, first listed on the stock market in 1948 and remained a public company until it was bought by Mohamed al-Fayed in 1985.
It was listed again in 1994 before being snapped up in 2006 by a group of investors led by Icelandic tycoon Jon Asgeir Johannesson's Baugur Group in a £ 350 million deal.
Sanpower is run by tycoon Yuan Yafei, whose empire spreads across finance, property, media, transport and IT and now employs 30,000 people with assets worth nearly £5 billion.
Today's report said the business is planning to inject £70 million to £80 million into House of Fraser in order to finance a wide-ranging store revamp and website improvements.
The tycoon may also take the department store into China by opening new stores or changing some existing sites to the House of Fraser name.
House of Fraser declined to comment today.