EU backs Greek ex-data chief over criminal charges
By Eric Maurice
The Greek government must guarantee the independence of its statistics office, the European Commission has said, weeks after criminal charges were brought against a former data chief.
The EU executive said failing to protect the statistics office could be "dangerous" for the Greek bailout programme.
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Andreas Georgiou, who headed the Greek Hellenic Statistical Authority (Elstat), was charged for falsifying data between 2010 and 2015.
On 1 August, Greece's Supreme Court said that Georgiou should be tried for inflating figures about the country's deficit and debt.
Under Georgiou, Elstat said that Greece's deficit for 2009 was 15.4 percent of GDP, not 13.6 percent as previously said by authorities. Georgiou's critics say that as a consequence a harsher bailout programme was imposed on Greece.
But EU social affairs commissioner Marianne Thyssen told journalists on Wednesday that it was "absolutely clear that data on Greek government debt during the period 2010-2015 have been fully reliable and accurately reported to Eurostat".
She added that it was "unlike the situation before this period" when Greece underestimated deficit figures.
Thyssen called on Greek authorities to "actively challenge the false impression that data were manipulated" and to "protect Elstat and its staff from such unfounded claims".
She said a letter signed by two other commissioners, vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis and finance commissioner Pierre Moscovici, had been sent to the Greek government.
She warned that failure to "support and preserve the quality of Greek statistics" could have consequences on the bailout provided by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
"This could become dangerous," she said about the situation.
She reminded the Greek government that it had committed to the independence of Elstat as part of the bailout agreed last year.
Georgiou, a former IMF official, became head of Elstat in August 2010, three months after the first bailout was decided.
Along with two other Elstat officials, he was first charged in 2013, after the Athens Bar Association wrote to Supreme Court prosecutor.
Charges were dropped in 2015 but a Supreme Court prosecutor appealed against the decision. Georgiou later resigned as head of Elstat.
“I feel that I’m living in a paradoxical world where everything is standing on its head," he told the Financial Times earlier this month.
"Those who produce reliable statistics that have been validated many times over by international institutions are persecuted while those who oppose them and were responsible for the fraudulent statistics in the past go unchallenged.
“If national officials cannot keep accurate statistics without fear of being dragged for years through the courts, the integrity of the EU and its economic system is critically undermined.”