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DOHA: Listed companies have an estimated between QR600m ($164.3m) and QR800m ($219.17m) in unclaimed dividends that have accrued over the years as their owners could not be traced.
The sums are lying with the companies frozen and unused. Companies attribute their failure to pay the dividends due to their legitimate owners to a mix of factors that include deaths of some, change of address and phone numbers of many, while the others having left the country for good.
But this is not the only money that is piling up due to the failure to trace their owners. Banks also face this problem as they have unclaimed deposits running into millions of riyals and whose owners cannot be found.
A banking industry insider told local Arabic daily Al Raya that banks do have a system to dispose of such funds, as, if a deposit remains unclaimed by its owner or his legal heirs for 10 years in a row the money is pledged to charity.
But such system does not exist with the companies listed on the local equity market, Qatar Exchange (QE), as a result of which they must retain these funds until a law is enforced guiding them how to deal with it.
The bourse introduced a system recently whereby shareholder dividends are credited directly into their bank accounts.
However, it is understood that many shareholders might not have provided their bank details due to various reasons, including death and absence from the country or might have simply ignored a company’s instructions to the effect due to their small shareholding, so their dividends remain unpaid.
An official from a listed firm told the daily the company has launched a website exclusively dedicated to contacting untraced shareholders so they could be contacted and paid dividends.
The company said they had succeeded to some extent and were issuing cheques for the dividend amounts for the years 2002 and 2003 for those shareholders who had been eventually contacted.
One way for the listed companies and banks is to publicly announce the names of the untraceable shareholders and depositors so either they or their legal heirs could collect the sums.
But the firms and banks are reluctant to resort to such a measure because people usually do not prefer that details about their investments are made public.
There are many stock investors and bank depositors who do not even inform their close family members of their investments, and that is why their money remains unclaimed if they die or leave the country for good or choose to ignore.
Listed companies say a new commercial companies’ law whose draft has recently been made public for a review should take into consideration the issue of unclaimed dividends and should guide them on how to deal with such money.