Unilever may have to pay up to 400 million euros (273 million pounds) compensation to former preferred shareholders after a court investigation, analysts said on Monday.

The payment will not impact Unilever's financial performance as it is relatively small for the company, they added.

The Enterprise Chamber of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal carried out an investigation into Unilever's 2004 conversion of preferred shares after complaints from investors.

The report has not yet been published but Dutch shareholder activist group VEB said it concluded Unilever had broken corporate governance rules. The company said, however, the report backed it in three key elements.

VEB has estimated the damage to shareholders at 422 million euros.

Unilever might be liable to pay a total of around 400 million euros in compensation, which does not impact our investment case on the ordinary shares, Rabo Securities wrote in a research note.

Analysts at Van Lanschot estimated a pay out of 420 million euros would be equivalent to 0.13 to .0.14 euros per share, which they said would have limited impact on the company.

Unilever, which has pledged to defend itself against any proceedings, said at the weekend the report upheld its decision to issue preference shares and five years later to convert them.

It added the report accepted that it had never guaranteed to buy the preference shares back for 6.58 euros, as asserted by some shareholders.

The investigators do however criticise Unilever's communications with regard to the preference shares. Unilever takes this criticism seriously, the company said.

Unilever announced in March 2004 that it intended to convert its 1999 preference shares into common shares on the basis of 11.2 preference shares against one ordinary Unilever share.

The preference share price fell 20 percent from 6.07 euros to 4.85 euros after the announcement as Unilever had given the impression that it would repurchase the preferential shares for 6.58 euros, according to Dutch share holder activist group VEB.

Unilever has said it will set up a special committee to look into the matter.