But industry sources question propriety of selling division with PFI equity stakes before projects are complete.
Australian bank Macquarie is tipped to buy Kvaerner's corporate development arm in a deal that raises serious questions about the treatment of stakes in private finance initiative projects.

The Kvaerner business deals solely with project equity stakes, including PFI deals, and has 15 such investments worth £50-60m. Industry sources said Macquarie, a Sydney-based bank worth £1.3bn, is in exclusive talks with Kvaerner to buy its portfolio.

However, some in the industry are concerned about whether contractors' stakes should be sold before they have built the projects.

Investments for sale include a 26% stake in the £300m redevelopment of the Ministry of Defence's London headquarters and a share in a PFI hospital in Greenwich, south-east London. Kvaerner's stakes in the Dartford Bridge, the A1/M1 link and the Midland Expressway are also owned by the division.

The sale is part of a worldwide restructuring of Kvaerner aimed at reducing its debt, and the portfolio could be attractive to investors keen to break into Britain's PFI market.

However, some in the industry have reservations about the deal. Kvaerner, with Amey and Hyder, became preferred bidder on the MOD project only this year, and sources said a key reason it was chosen was that it would co-fund as well as build the project.

One source said: "One of the clear successes of the PFI has been where contractors are in an 'ownership' position, meaning the project tends to go very well.

"It has so far been important to government departments that contractors are identified up front as having a stake. But if the contractor gets de-linked from the equity, it creates a real problem. The whole relationship changes. I would have been surprised if the Kvaerner team had won the project if it did not have a stake when the bid went in.

"Who knows what the MOD will think now. It is a stickler for form." Kvaerner Investments president Hans Petterfinne, who is handling the sale of the Kvaerner arm, said: "We are not ready to comment on where we are in the process." Asked if he was in talks with Macquarie, he said: "I do not want to say anything about any party that might have approached us.

"When we said we were going to sell, we were aware of all the obligations under the agreements we made. We are aware of all the ties and Kvaerner Construction's role in this. It will need to be discussed with all our clients and co-investors."

Steve Allen, the London-based divisional director for Macquarie's structured finance division, said: "I've got no comment to make on the whole thing."

An MOD spokesman said: "Kvaerner Corporate Development is one of the equity providers for the MOD main building. We are reviewing the implications of the sale of its stake with the Amey/Hyder/Kvaerner consortium but, at this stage, we do not believe there will be a major effect on the project."

However, the MOD is understood to be monitoring the situation before it decides whether the new stakeholder has the resources to co-fund the project. Financial close on the deal is due later this year.

The sale of Kvaerner Corporate Development has coincided with Kvaerner Construction chief executive Keith Clarke declaring publicly that contractors need not have stakes in PFI projects.