ING won a significant victory on Friday morning when the General Court of the EU found in favour of the Dutch Bank’s appeal. It brought the case against the European Commission’s 2009 decision on INGs restructuring and recapitalisation by the Dutch government.

In essence the judgement means that ING can stop the difficult task of selling some of its best businesses, which include its Asian insurance business. The bank is not saying that any specific process has been halted, but according to a spokesman at the bank, they are examining the 50-page judgement closely and “we will see if it impacts any of the processes we are doing. We will consider what the consequences are”.

Accordion to CEO Jan Hommen, in 2011 the bank managed to complete the legal separation of its insurance businesses from the banking businesses in Asia. This was a crucial precursor to any subsequent sale of the business.

ING’s Asian buy-side businesses include:

  • ING Life (Hong Kong, India, Japan, Macau, Korea and Thailand);
  • ING Investment Management (Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Korea);
  • ING Real Estate (China, Japan, Taiwan);
  • ING Funds (Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan).
  • It also has JVs in China (ING China Merchants Fund Management), Korea (KBLife).
  • On the banking side it has stakes in Bank of Beijing, ING Vysya in India and ING TMB in Thailand.

The bank would not comment on which businesses were being considered for a sale, nor if any processes were formally underway. But it is understood that the insurance sales were proceeding slowly due to adverse market conditions.

The judgement will come as a huge relief to the bank, which feels that it has been unfairly treated by the European Commission. In essence, the EC said that in return for receiving €10 billion of state aid during the crisis, ING had to divest itself of a number of businesses around the world.

This rather counter-productive judgement was reiterated in 2009 when ING repaid €5 billion of the bail-out money. However, the EC determined that the Dutch government had let ING off the hook for a further €2 billion that it would have made if it had held onto the money and so demanded even more asset sales. This was the decision that ING challenged.

If the judgement sets a precedent, it could throw a spanner into other European banks’ sales of Asian businesses. It has probably come too late for RBS, but other banks which have been told to get rid of non-European business will be thanking ING for slowing – or even stopping – their forced break-up.