Sberbank has dropped out of the race to buy Turkey's Denizbank , three people close to the matter said, dealing a blow to efforts by its crippled owner Dexia to sell the fast-growing business for up to $6 billion (3 billion pound).

The withdrawal leaves Qatar National Bank and HSBC as the main suitors who will get access to Denizbank's books in what is known as the data room.

Sberbank is no longer looking at Denizbank, one of the sources said.

Britain's Standard Chartered has also been given access to the data room, but seems less motivated than the others, two of the people said.

Sberbank might find an acquisition of Denizbank too complicated at the moment, one of the sources said, because Russia's biggest lender is still integrating previous acquisitions of Russian brokerage Troika Dialog and the eastern European arm of Austrian lender Oesterreichische Volksbanken .

Dexia is being dismantled and its assets sold after France, Belgium and Luxembourg had to bail out the bank, which was hurt by the deepening euro zone debt crisis. It took big losses in Greece and had been shut out of funding markets.

Another person said that Denizbank, with a market capitalisation of $5.3 billion, was too expensive for Sberbank and that its majority ownership by the Russian state would not appeal to Turkish regulators.

Sberbank's early pass is a blow to Dexia because some analysts had considered the Russian bank as a frontrunner for Denizbank after it signed up Deutsche Bank to advise on a potential bid.

DATA ROOM

Dexia Chief Executive Pierre Mariani said the data room would open this week.

Other banks had also expressed interest, but have not been given access at this stage, one person said.

Qatar National Bank, 50 percent owned by sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority, has confirmed it is in negotiations to buy a controlling stake in Denizbank.

Middle East unrest and debt crises in Europe and North America have made Turkish firms a natural target for Gulf investors, lured by the country's growth prospects.

QNB said that a deal would depend on how well Denizbank fitted its expansion strategy and on a price that fairly reflects the financial position of the Turkish bank.

For HSBC, an acquisition of Denizbank would strengthen its position in Turkey, where it has been present for two decades and, and further its aim to expand in emerging markets.

HSBC has grown by acquisition and organically in Turkey. In October 2001, it bought Demirbank, the fifth-largest private bank in Turkey, and its wholly-owned stockbroking and fund management subsidiary, Demir Yatirim.

(Reporting by Victoria Howley, Sophie Sassard and Ekaterina Golubkova; Editing by Douwe Miedema, Jon Loades-Carter and Erica Billingham)