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20th Aug 2018

Ex-Greek data chief sentenced over deficit figures

  • Georgiou had been accused of inflating deficit statistics, leading to a harsher bailout programme for the country (Photo: EUobserver)

A Greek court has punished a former head of the country’s statistics agency in a case that revived controversy over the origins of the financial crisis and alleged meddling in the judiciary.

The appeals court gave Andreas Georgiou, who headed the Greek Hellenic Statistical Authority (Elstat), from 2010 to 2015, a two-year suspended sentence for breach of duty on Tuesday (1 August).

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It found him guilty of having sent data about Greece's 2009 budget deficit to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, in November 2010 without informing Elstat's board.

The figures established under Georgiou's authority in 2010 showed a higher deficit than had been previously declared by Greek authorities - 15.4 percent of GDP, instead of 13.6 percent.

Georgiou's statistics were instrumental in talks with the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the start of Greece's first bailout. Critics said that because of them a harsher programme was imposed on the country.

A larger deficit than first reported meant that Greece had to make more cuts under the authority of the creditor institutions.

Georgiou, who became head of Elsat in August 2010, was first charged in 2013 for allegedly inflating the deficit figures - a criminal offence.

The case was dropped in 2015, then reopened after a prosecutor appealed. It was dropped a second time in May and reopened in July.

Although the former statistics chief was convicted on Tuesday, he was cleared of the criminal charges.

"It is a resounding victory for Mr. Georgiou," his lawyer told Associated Press. "It's like being charged for a deadly traffic accident and being convicted for failing to renew your driver's license."

The lawyer added that he had advised Georgiou, who lives in the US, to appeal even the lighter conviction at the Greek Supreme Court.

The European Commission said it "took note" of the ruling and said that the independence of Elsat was a "key commitment" by Greece under the bailout memorandum.

Last year, the EU executive had called on the Greek government to "actively and publicly challenge the false impression that data were manipulated" under Georgiou.

On Tuesday, it said that it had “full confidence in the reliability and accuracy of Elsat data during 2010 to 2015 and beyond."

The trial and conviction come after the Greek government was recently accused by judges of trying to put the judiciary under political pressure over Georgiou's and a few other cases.

In statement in late July the association of judges and prosecutors said that the government "is systematically attempting to subjugate and control justice."

They said that "ministers and lawmakers launch baseless accusations daily [and] seek to erode the prestige of the Greek justice system."

Greek president Prokopis Pavlopoulos also warned in an address to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the return of democracy to Greece that: "Only in a democratic regime and the separation of powers that is inherent in this can a person live and create freely.”

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras answered that “justice is and must remain independent," but that ministers had a right to criticise judges.

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