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Italian plastics equipment maker Cannon Group has surfaced as a possible buyer for Sandretto Metalmeccanica SpA, Italy's largest injection press supplier.

The pending deal was reported in late January by the italian financial press. Tony Firth, vice president of sales at the company's U.S. operation, Sandretto Plastics machinery Inc. in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, confirmed the reports.

However, Sandretto still is seeking more bids.

The Italian government gained ownership of Sandretto in 1993, under Italy's Legge Prodi laws, which allow the government to take control of major companies that fall into financial trouble, and eventually sell them to new private owners. Although the government owns Sandretto, an independent management team runs the Turin-based machinery manufacturer.

Cannon's bid to buy Sandretto follows a failed attempt last summer by a group of Italian institutional investment firms. Firth said the bid by Cannon, based in Trezzano, has been accepted by Italy's Ministry of Industry and Sandretto managers.

Firth said that, under Legge Prodi, the government has announced that it has accepted Cannon's bid as the final offer - but it will accept competing offers through mid-March.

Government officials have said they will not permit a sale unless the new owner is committed to invest money and expand Sandretto.

Sandretto generated about $140 million in sales in 1996.

Cannon, with sales of about $170 million, is best-known for its polyurethane processing equipment. Cannon machines make foam seats, cushions and insulation. During the K'95 trade show in Germany, company officials said PU machines account for more than 90 percent of sales.

Cannon makes thermoforming machines through Shelley Thermoformers International Ltd. in Huntingdon, England. The company also makes compression molding machines.

Cannon's U.S. unit, Cannon USA, is based in Cranberry Township, near Pars, Pa.

Cannon claims its foam insulation machines make more than one-third of the refigerators produced worldwide.

Sandretto's former owner was Formara Group.