FRANKFURT Jan 23 (Reuters) - Bidders for the oil and gas exploration offshoot of German utility RWE AG value the unit in a wide range between 3.5 billion euros ($4.8 billion) and 5 billion, two sources familiar with the transaction said on Thursday.
A tentative offer from Wintershall (part of BASF SE ) came in at 3.5 billion euros, and a consortium of U.S. private equity firm KKR & Co and Kufpec bid 4.2 billion. But it was a 5 billion offer from Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman that stuck out, the sources said.
Along with peers E.ON SE and EnBW, RWE is shedding assets as it attempts to recover from the country's decision to exit nuclear energy by 2022, a move prompted by the nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima plant.
Offers handed in by a Monday deadline are non-binding and suitors may change their valuations significantly once they have done "due diligence" checks on the assets. Binding bids are not expected before late March, one of the sources said.
Two people close to the negotiations had told Reuters last week that offers for DEA were expected to come in at about 4 billion euros, less than the up to 5 billion sources said had originally been targeted by Germany's second-biggest utility.
A third source said on Thursday a fourth contender may still be allowed to enter the race, adding Hungary's MOL was looking for a partner for a potential bid.
MOL is also in talks about the future of Croatian energy firm INA, which it holds jointly with Croatia, but has said it wants to make more acquisitions in more politically stable regions.
It remained unclear how big MOL's appetite is for a takeover at present, one of the sources said.
DEA owns stakes in about 190 oil and gas licenses or concessions in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, some of which are non-producing and in need of large investments.
Valuations for the African assets in particular varied greatly, one of the sources said.
With operations in 14 countries, including Germany, Britain, Norway and Libya, DEA employs nearly 1,400 and accounted for about 11 percent of RWE's operating profit in 2012.
RWE, Wintershall, KKR and Fridman declined to comment. MOL and Kufpec were not immediately available to comment. ($1 = 0.7372 euros) (Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger, Tom Kaeckenhoff, Krisztina Than and Dinesh Nair; Editing by David Holmes)