* Finsoport, Estudio Bein fined $120,000, news agency says
* Surging prices a concern for gov’t as election nears
BUENOS AIRES, March 11 (Reuters) - Argentina’s government fined two private consultancies $120,000 over the publication of inflation estimates that more than double the official rate, the state news agency reported on Friday.
The government’s price watchdog, Domestic Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno, ordered private economists last month to reveal how they calculate inflation far higher than the price data reported by the widely discredited INDEC national statistics agency. [ID:nN02238589]
Consulting firms Finsoport and Estudio Bein were fined under a law on deceptive commercial practices, the Telam news agency said, citing a government resolution.
The resolution said Finsoport had not cooperated with Moreno’s request “in its drive to hide the information and avoid presenting it.”
Jorge Todesca of Finsoport said he had not received a formal notice from the government about the fine, but he was ready to appeal it.
“It’s another authoritarian act by the commerce secretary,” said Todesca, who plans to run for mayor of Buenos Aires on an opposition ticket. “The main issue here is that it is censoring our ... freedom to present different estimates than those of the government.”
Estudio Bein could not immediately be reached for comment.
The private estimates put annual inflation in Argentina’s economy, Latin America’s third largest, at about 25 percent.
INDEC, which is due to report February inflation ARCPI=ECI on March 15, said consumer prices rose 10.9 percent last year.
Burgeoning consumer prices are a headache for President Cristina Fernandez, seven months from a presidential election where she is expected to seek a second term.
Telam reported late last month that the government had fined consultancy Orlando Ferreres y Asociados, but the firm said they were not notified of any fines, and economists dismissed the report as false and part of an attempt to stifle them ahead of October’s election. [ID:nN25195454]
Private economists, politicians and some state statisticians accuse the center-left administration of under-reporting inflation since early 2007 for political gain and to lighten its debt burden, as a quarter of Argentina’s debt is adjusted for inflation.
$1 = 4.1425 Argentine pesos Reporting by Luis Andres Henao; Editing by Padraic Cassidy