Despite public protestations to the contrary, German airline Lufthansa and troubled retailer KarstadtQuelle are preparing to sell their combined travel and tourism venture Thomas Cook, the Financial Times Deutschland reported on Friday. Furthermore, the preparations were further advanced than previously thought, the newspaper said, quoting sources close to the negotiations. The deadline for potential buyers to express their interest in Germany's second-biggest tour operator was set to expire "in the next few days," the paper said. Investment bankers have approached a number of potential buyers, including Hamburg entrepreneur and former Tchibo shareholder Günter Herz. The sale of Thomas Cook by its two shareholders Lufthansa and KarstadtQuelle was expected to raise 1.0-1.5 billion euros ($1.2-1.8 billion dollars). The two groups, which each hold 50 percent of Thomas Cook, have repeatedly denied any intention of selling the unit. But speculation of a sale has refused to die down, since Thomas Cook's huge losses in recent years have torn big holes in its owners' balance sheets. The paper said Morgan Stanley had been commissioned to find a buyer. But if a sale did not come about, Thomas Cook could be floated on the stock exchange as an alternative, the newspaper said.