After the acquisition, 4.73 percent of the shares remain unclaimed. Each share is worth 12.50 euros, so that adds up to about 44 million dollars. Benckiser has deposited this compensation amount in a depository account with the Dutch Ministry of Finance in The Hague. "That's where the money is waiting for the rights holders. We want to make sure that the pot gets to the right people. It would be a shame if the shareholders missed out on this," says Jobert van Kempen from the specialised detective agency JARK.
The detective agency has extensive international experience and an excellent track record when it comes to locating rights holders of shares and inheritances. JARK is primarily looking for shareholders in America because research shows that most of them are from there. The shares are registered by name, but lack addresses or contact information. Neither Sara Lee nor the Dutch state wishes to share these out of privacy protection considerations.
Benckiser has sent all 23,000 shareholders a letter about the acquisition, but the latter have not responded to it. Therefore JARK is now trying to reach people using an appeal in the American media. "Some people probably don't even know that D.E Master Blenders was sold by Sara Lee, that the fund no longer exists and that the deadline has passed for registering shares," says van Kempen. "The shares are worthless, but holders can apply for compensation up to 2034."
The Dutch company Douwe Egberts was founded in 1753 by Egbert Douwes and his wife, and in 1780 it was transferred to their son Douwe Egberts, whose name had been connected with the business since then. In 1978, D.E was acquired by the Sara Lee Corporation. They then split the shares in June 2012 and listed the company under the name D.E Master Blenders 1753 on the NYSE Euronext stock exchange in Amsterdam. In April 2013, the German investment company Oak Leaf led by Joh. A. Beckinser acquired the shares and the offer was finally set at 12.50 euros per share.
The likely reason so many shareholders have not registered is because in the United States Sara Lee was a kind of widely held stock that was passed down from one generation to the next. According to JARK, many owners don't even know they have such a share.