Italian bank Intesa SanPaolo is pulling out of the race to acquire AIB's Polish unit Bank Zachodni WBK, a source close to the matter said today.

'Intesa has pulled out. The direction seems to be that of returning the bank to local shareholders,' the source said.

Last month the head of the Polish bank said there had been four meetings with potential buyers. AIB's 70% stake in Bank Zachodni WBK has a market value of $3 billion.

It has been reported that France's BNP Paribas is also in the running, while Poland's top bank PKO BP and Spain's Santander are also said to the other two short-listed bidders.

Poland, seeking to cut the 70% participation of foreign players in its banking system, is backing an expected bid by state-controlled PKO BP.