European private equity firm Cinven has kicked off a fundraising drive for its fifth buyout fund, aiming to gather up to 5bn euro ($7.1bn) for new deals, people familiar with the situation said.

The buyout firm, whose investments include Pizza Express group Gondola Holdings and Dutch cable operator Ziggo, is hoping to buck tough fundraising markets in which amassing new funds can take up to two years.

Cinven targeting a first close – the point after which investors are locked in and it can start investing the capital raised – in the autumn, three people familiar with the situation said.

It has deployed about 70 percent of its fourth fund and has told investors it planned to extend the investment period of the fund by one year, allowing it to continue spending the remaining almost €2bn until mid-2012, they said.

Cinven, which declined to comment, last raised money in 2006, drawing in €6.5bn from more than 100 institutional investors to beat its initial target of €5bn.

Private equity fundraising has become more difficult in the wake of the credit crisis as cautious investors pledge less money to fewer buyout firms.

Rival buyout firm BC Partners earlier in March raised €4bn towards its latest buyout fund, beating initial expectations and providing a ray of hope to the many firms ready to follow it this year.

Private equity professionals attending the SuperReturn private equity conference in Berlin said they expected funds to be dramatically smaller than those raised at the peak of the buyouts boom.

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