ZURICH Insurance has emerged as the front-runner to buy Quinn Insurance out of administration as a joint offer by Anglo Irish Bank and Liberty Mutual faces significantly regulatory hurdles, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

It is understood the administrators and their banking adviser Macquarie have narrowed the field of bidders down to Anglo/ Liberty and Zurich. However, regulatory officials remain opposed to Anglo's involvement in any takeover of Quinn involving the insurance business, which was put into administration by the Financial Regulator in March, due the bank's lack of insurance expertise and its chequered regulatory history.

Anglo wants to acquire Quinn Insurance so it would be in a better position to secure repayment of the €2.8bn it lent Seán Quinn and his family. The bank brought Liberty Mutual, one of the biggest insurers in the US, on board in its bid to convince the regulator that it would be capable of running an insurance company.

Any sale recommended by the administrators has to be approved by both the Central Bank and the High Court, so regulatory support for the winning bid is crucial.

A spokeswoman said the Central Bank would not be commenting further on the matter, but said officials are in ongoing close contact with the administrators.

Any bid involving Anglo would also draw the scrutiny of the EU competition commission, which has to approve the bank's ultimate restructuring, and the European Central Bank, which is still providing emergency liquidity to the institution.

The administrators from Grant Thornton told the High Court last week they expect to name a preferred bidder in a matter of weeks. Once a preferred bidder is named, talks on the sale will take some months.