ATHENS Jan 24 Greece's government on Thursday
backed its embattled statistics chief, accused in felony charges
of artificially inflating budget deficit figures to make the
country's debt crisis appear worse.
Greek statistics agency ELSTAT head Andreas Georgiou has
denied wrongdoing and the European Union's own Eurostat
statistics agency has defended him, saying the deficit was
calculated in line with its standards.
"The ministry does not doubt in any way the statistical data
on which the present (economic) programme is based," a senior
finance ministry official told Reuters on condition of
The Greek debt crisis was triggered in late 2009 when the
then Socialist government revealed the budget deficit was
grossly underestimated. Georgiou was appointed in 2010 in an
effort to restore the credibility of Greek statistics.
Government officials defended his record, saying he worked
closely with Eurostat to streamline methods and provide credible
figures, despite resistance from within the agency, echoing EU
"Eurostat has been clear that it finds the revision of the
Greek republic's finance data for 2009 by the Greek statistics
service ELSTAT to be reliable and ... Greek data followed all
the EU rules applicable," said Emer Traynor, a spokesperson for
Algirdas Semeta, the EU commissioner in charge of tax policy.
However, an economic crimes prosecutor formally slapped
felony charges on Georgiou and two other ELSTAT employees on
Thursday, on evidence that they falsified the country's 2009
fiscal data, a court official said.
The case stems from allegations by an ELSTAT employee who
was dismissed that Georgiou inflated the deficit numbers as part
of a German-led conspiracy to justify harsh austerity measures
to accompany a bailout.
Georgiou, a 52-year old veteran International Monetary Fund
statistician, said Greece's decision to ask its international
partners for help was based on statistics produced by his
predecessors, long before he was put in charge of ELSTAT.
"It is striking that a criminal prosecution ... did not take
place when Greek statistics were a constant source of concern,"
he said in a statement. "I will continue to apply the law,
despite the adversities."
He has denied similar allegations in the past, describing
them an "unprecedented" case of statisticians being investigated
for producing figures under EU regulations.
The charges reopen last year's domestic political row on
whether wrong fiscal data in late 2009 were to blame for forcing
Athens to seek an international bailout that has since swollen
to 240 billion euros - the biggest sovereign rescue in history.
In November 2010, shortly after Georgiou took over, the 2009
budget deficit was revised again to more than 15 percent of
gross domestic product from 13.6 percent, indicating the scale
of Greece's fiscal derailment and deepening the country's
If convicted on charges of breach of faith - a crime that
usually applies to those who embezzle or misuse public funds -
Georgiou could face at least five years in jail.