Top Greek statistician persecuted for telling the truth

By: Louise Cooper

Greece’s top statistician, Andreas Georgiou, is awaiting questioning by an interrogator magistrate to determine if he is to face criminal charges and a possible jail term. It is thought, but still unconfirmed, that the charge is breach of faith against the state for repeatedly falsifying economic data. And yet this is the ex IMF man who came in to clean up Greece’s contaminated statistical office in 2010. For the first time, he applied the correct EU rules. The International Statistical Institute calls the charges “fanciful”.  For telling the truth about Greece’s economic situation, he is threatened with years in prison. This is an outrage and anyone with an interest in finance, fairness in the world and the sanctity of law should sign the petition to drop the charges. Mr Georgiou has spent 21 years helping economically devastated countries and their people at the IMF.  Originally he was responsible for preparation, negotiation and monitoring of economic programs and then for the last six years until 2010, he was the deputy division chief in the IMF Statistics Department.  What he doesn’t know about the statistics of economic data is probably not worth knowing. But as the Greek crisis unfolded, he decided to give up this highly respected and top position to return to his homeland in its hour of need. The manipulation and inaccuracy of Greece's economic data in the past had been a major factor in the state’s demise. He could help the country of his birth with his mathematical skills. He arrived at ELSTAT in August 2010, just as the statistics body was given independence from political control – demanded by the EU if it was going to hand over rescue money.  At that time, the reputation of the data office was in tatters and the EU’s statistics office, EUROSTAT, had “reservations” about the last set of Greece’s biannual numbers (as it had many times before).  Mr Georgiou’s arrival with his significant international statistical experience ensured that EU standards were finally applied correctly.   The resultant figures showed the budget deficit for 2009 was in fact 15.4% and not the previous estimate of 13.6% (and miles from the 3.7% the besmirched old Greek statistics body had forecast only the year before).  Georgiou’s 15.4% figure has since been validated by EUROSTAT five times.  The IMF also uses Mr Georgiou’s numbers in its bailout terms and conditions – a mark of confidence in his data. To quote from a European Commission Report of 8th January 2010, before Mr Georgiou arrived: “lack of quality of the Greek fiscal statistics”; “substantial number of un-answered questions and pending issues still remain in some key areas”; “problems related to statistical weaknesses and  failures of the relevant Greek institutions in a broad sense”; “unsatisfactory technical procedures in the Greek statistical institute”; “inappropriate governance, with poor cooperation and lack of clear responsibilities… which leave the quality of fiscal statistics subject to political pressures and electoral cycles”.  I could go on but won’t – read it for yourself. These were the problems that caused the new independent Greek statistical body ELSTAT to be set up with an outsider at the helm – Andreas Georgiou.  And he quickly made significant progress.  Quoting again from a Eurostat report only months after Mr Georgiou arrived “Eurostat is lifting the reservation on Greek data expressed in… April 2010. Eurostat and the Hellenic Statistical Authority have addressed all of the issues identified in the last reservation during a series of EDP methodological visits.” And yet his reward for cleaning up the statistics and ensuring they tell the truth, has been the personal threat of jail, which apparently would be commensurate with the damage done to the Greek state! In the political chaos of Greece, the new three party coalition government seem reluctant to get involved.  There is little help for the man who has finally brought some credibility to Greece’s economic data and therefore enabled the bailout programme.   He has already been “called before parliament to answer accusations by former Statistics chiefs that he inflated the 2009 figures as part of a German led conspiracy to plunge the county into deeper austerity,” to quote a Reuters report. It would be hilarious if not so tragic. And it seems from a report in the FT that the current threat of criminal charges comes from data compiled by a former fired ELSTAT chief, responsible for compiling statistics before the crisis when the data was so poor quality and politically influenced.  And yet those in charge before the crisis played a part in the devastation of the country, by consistently failing to reveal the true state of affairs until it was too late.  For some of them to appear to seek revenge against Mr Georgiou, is despicable.  ELSTAT unions have also been against Andreas Georgiou almost as soon as he arrived – once the charges became known, Union bosses called for him to be fired. Eurostat has confirmed that past statistics were highly inaccurate, compiled badly often to serve political interests.  Remember the off balance sheet Greek swaps that enabled the government to hide its debt and meet the Maastricht criteria?  According to Eurostat, the impact was an increase of “government debt in all years (2006-2009) with an addition at end 2009 of E5.3bn (2.26 percentage points of GDP)”. Some of Mr Georgiou’s critics approved this deception. New data under Andreas Georgiou have been validated by both EUROSTAT and the IMF.  So why is a Greek court threatening him with jail?   He is the good guy clearing up past mess, and some of his accusers seem in part those who created it to start with.  Those who ignored the rules, ran a poor statistical agency and helped create the economic chaos currently in Greece.  Eurostat has confirmed time and time again that Mr Georgiou is finally forcing Greece to follow the rules that everyone else in the Eurozone follows. Eurostat has been unequivocal in its support for Georgiou: “Eurostat refutes all allegations that the deficit of 2009 was over-estimated”. Even the British Royal Statistical Society has written a letter to the President of Greece to complain against the charges being laid at Me Georgiou’s door:  “we have deep concerns about the validity of the case against Mr Georgiou.” And the International Statistical Institute joins in too: “ express their profound disappointment and serious concern over the prosecution of Mr Andreas Georgiou… The charges against Mr Georgiou and two of his two managers of exaggerating the estimates of Greek government deficit and debt for the year 2009 are fanciful and not consistent with the facts” It is a farce that that Mr Gorgiou is threatened with jail in an EU country in the birthplace of democracy, for following EU and International rules.   The law should not be used for personal vendettas and political games. I have started an E-petition to raise awareness of the threat to Mr Georgiou and to call on the Greek Prosecutor of Economic Crimes, Grigoris Peponis to drop all charges. I would ask for an apology as well but that I imagine it is highly unlikely. I would be grateful if you could sign the e-petition and pass it on to anyone you know.  Twitter, Facebook, email, please get the word spread widely and we can ensure that this honourable man can go back to focusing on what is important – helping with the resurrection of his country for those who live there. Please sign up here.