On 13 April 2013 the European Court of Justice ("ECJ") held that the General Court's decision to reject Mindo's initial appeal lacked adequate reasoning. Mindo had lodged an appeal at the General Court, claiming an interest in the outcome of the proceeding against itself and Alliance One, its former parent. This interest stemmed from the possibility of Alliance One having a cross-claim over Mindo for the payment of the fine for which they were jointly and severally liable.
In its decision of 2005 concerning the Italian raw tobacco cartel, the European Commission had fined the legal predecessors of both Mindo and Alliance One a total of EUR 10 million. Of this total, Alliance One was held liable for the whole fine and Mindo only jointly and severally liable for EUR 3.99 million. On February 2006 Alliance One paid the total amount of the fine and in September of that same year Mindo entered into liquidation.
The General Court held that Mindo had not established to the requisite legal standard that it had an interest in seeking the partial annulment of the Commission's decision and/or reduction of the imposed fine. In that regard, the General Court found that Mindo did not adduce sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Alliance One still had a claim over it and still intended recovering that claim.
The ECJ sets aside the General Court's judgment because several findings were vitiated by insufficient reasoning. In its appeal before the General Court, Mindo stated that under Italian law, by paying the total amount of the fine, Alliance One had obtained the right to claim contribution from Mindo. Although this was not disputed between the parties, the General Court found that Alliance's payment was not sufficient to give rise to such claim, merely stating that five years had passed without any request from Alliance One for a contribution. According to the General Court there was no evidence to rule out that Alliance had waived its right to claim a contribution from Mindo.
The ECJ stated that this finding was inadequately reasoned, especially as Mindo had argued in a sufficiently precise and clear manner that under Italian law on liquidation and creditor arrangements, Alliance One's claim would only be time-barred in 2016.
Regarding the General Court's finding that Mindo should prove the intention of Alliance One to recover the claim, the ECJ held that the General Court erred in law. The General Court placed an impossible burden of proof on Mindo by requiring it to prove a third party's intention.
This judgment shows that the General Court must provide sufficient and adequate reasoning when finding that an applicant, who is an addressee and has been fined by a Commission decision, has no vested interest in an appeal. Moreover, there should be a substantial basis, beyond mere assumptions, to find this lack of vested interest.