Article 41 - Right to good administration
Article 48 - Presumption of innocence and right of defence
Key facts of the case:
APPLICATION under Article 263 TFEU for the annulment of Commission Decision C(2014) 6250 final of 3 September 2014 relating to proceedings under Article 101 TFEU and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement (Case AT.39574 — Smart Card Chips) or, in the alternative, for the cancellation of or a reduction in the fine imposed on the applicants.
Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:
THE GENERAL COURT (Fifth Chamber) hereby:
207. The applicants argue, in substance, that the Commission breached Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the principle of sound administration and the duty of care in that it did not treat them fairly and impartially during the administrative procedure. They put forward seven main complaints.
208. The Commission contests those arguments.
209. Under Article 41(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, relating to ‘[r]ight to good administration’, every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union.
210. According to the case-law, the principle of sound administration consists in the duty of the competent institution to examine carefully and impartially all the relevant aspects in the individual case (judgment of 24 January 1992, La Cinq v Commission, T‑44/90, EU:T:1992:5, paragraph 86).
211. Moreover, the duty of diligence applies generally to the actions of the Union administration in its relations with the public. The protective nature of the duty of diligence in relation to individuals imposes on the competent institution the obligation to examine carefully and impartially all the relevant aspects of the individual case (see judgment of 15 January 2015, Ziegler and Ziegler Relocation v Commission, T‑539/12 and T‑150/13, not published, EU:T:2015:15, paragraph 97 and the case-law cited).
212. As a preliminary point, it should be noted at the outset that, although the applicants plead breach of the principle of sound administration and of the Commission’s duty of care, they nevertheless claim, in essence, that that principle and that duty were infringed in so far as the Commission breached the rules governing the law of evidence, since it wrongly relied on evidence provided by Samsung, which they consider to be fundamentally unreliable, insufficient, contradictory, inaccurate or inauthentic. It is in that context that each of the seven complaints put forward by the applicants should be examined.
268. Under Article 48 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, ‘respect for the rights of the defence of anyone who has been charged shall be guaranteed’.
269. Article 27(2) of Regulation No 1/2003 provides that the rights of defence of the parties concerned are to be fully respected in the proceedings.
270. Article 11 of Regulation No 773/2004 is worded as follows:
271. According to the case-law, the right of access to the Commission’s file, which is the corollary of the principle of respect for the rights of the defence, means that the Commission must give the undertaking concerned the opportunity to examine all the documents in the investigation file which may be relevant for its defence. Those documents comprise both incriminating and exculpatory evidence, save where the business secrets of other undertakings, the internal documents of the Commission or other confidential information are involved (see judgment of 7 January 2004, Aalborg Portland and Others v Commission, C‑204/00 P, C‑205/00 P, C‑211/00 P, C‑213/00 P, C‑217/00 P and C‑219/00 P, EU:C:2004:6, paragraph 68 and the case-law cited).
272. If a procedural document before the Commission which may be categorised as inculpatory evidence, because the Commission relied on that document to support its objection concerning the existence of an infringement, was not communicated, it is for the undertaking concerned to show that the result at which the Commission arrived in its decision would have been different if that document which was not communicated and on which the Commission relied to make a finding of infringement against it had to be disallowed as evidence (see, to that effect, judgment of 7 January 2004, Aalborg Portland and Others v Commission, C‑204/00 P, C‑205/00 P, C‑211/00 P, C‑213/00 P, C‑217/00 P and C‑219/00 P, EU:C:2004:6, paragraphs 71 and 73).
273. If, however, a procedural document before the Commission which may be categorised — since it is capable of exonerating an undertaking which is accused of having participated in a cartel — as exculpatory evidence is not communicated to that undertaking, the latter’s rights of the defence are infringed if that undertaking shows that the document at issue could have been useful for its defence. Such evidence may be furnished by showing that the non-disclosure was capable of influencing, to the detriment of the undertaking at issue, the course of the proceedings and the content of the Commission’s decision, or that it could have harmed or rendered more difficult the defence of that undertaking’s interests during the administrative procedure (see, to that effect, judgment of 19 December 2013, Siemens and Others v Commission, C‑239/11 P, C‑489/11 P and C‑498/11 P, not published, EU:C:2013:866, paragraphs 367 and 368).
274. First, it should be noted that the Commission recognises that it did not communicate to the applicants three documents relating to the credibility of the email of 13 April 2004.
275. Second, it should be pointed out that it is apparent from recital 204 of the contested decision that the Commission decided not to use the email of 13 April 2004 to penalise the applicants, since it had been altered ‘with no clear explanation on the circumstances of the alteration’. In so far as the three documents at issue did not lead the Commission to censure the applicants, the Court finds that the failure to communicate those documents to the applicants was not capable of influencing the conduct of the administrative procedure and the content of the contested decision, which the applicants do not indeed claim.
276. In those circumstances, it must be held that the Commission did not infringe the applicants’ rights of defence.