Troubled commodities broker Refco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last night and said it had reached a preliminary deal to sell...

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NEW YORK — Troubled commodities broker Refco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last night and said it had reached a preliminary deal to sell its core futures brokerage business to a group of private investors for $768 million.

The consortium of would-be buyers is led by private buyout firm J.C. Flowers & Co., which specializes in taking distressed financial companies and either turning them around or selling the pieces to other companies.

As part of the agreement, Refco said it will have the option to retain up to 20 percent of the equity value of the entities being sold.

New York-based Refco is moving forward with a sale to the Flowers-led group amid protests from would-be rivals.

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The investment arm of Dubai’s government and Blackstone Group, one of the world’s biggest buyout firms, are part of a consortium that may seek to trump the Flowers-led offer.

Last week, Refco said former Chief Executive Phillip R. Bennett covered up $430 million in bad debts.

Customers abandoned the company as its credit ratings were cut, pushing it toward collapse.