Archive for September, 2016
Anyone who has followed the Greek crisis will be familiar with stories of insane corruption and absurd clientilismo. As the criminal prosecution of the former head of ELSTAT, Andreas Georgiou, shows the Tsipras government prefers scapegoats rather than facing painful truths about the past. Now, also foreigners working for the IMF and Eurostat are being implicated in a new criminal case against Georgiou and his colleagues.
Before the January 2015 elections, which brought Alex Tsipras and his Syriza party to power, Tsipras had been adamant on the need to tackle corruption. Once in power this discourse ebbed out. Now Tsipras and his government is watching a so-called independent judiciary persecuting the former head of ELSTAT, the Greek statistical bureau, Andreas Georgiou, who demonstrably turned ELSTAT and statistics around after a decade of falsified statistics.
The latest and most remarkable turn in the ELSTAT saga is a new criminal investigation, not only focusing on Georgiou and two of his colleagues, whose cases have all been dismissed more than once (see my detailed ELSTAT saga, written after I visited Athens in June 2015) but also on the IMF and Eurostat staff.
As I have earlier pointed out the ELSTAT prosecutions are a test of the new Greece trying to be born after the crisis: as long as ELSTAT staff and now foreigners striving to bring clarity to statistics, one of the absolute pillars of any modern country, are being prosecuted Greece is failing to free itself of political corruption. The fact that the Greek state is yet again trying to prosecute civil servants who did their jobs admirably is a sign of something seriously wrong in this country.
To Icelog Georgiou says: “The prosecutions within the borders of the European Union of official statisticians, whose work has been thoroughly checked and fully validated by the competent European Union institutions for six years in a row, should be a cause of great concern given their important precedential significance at a European Union level and an international level as well.”
A new criminal investigation of ELSTAT directors – as well as IMF and Eurostat staff
The latest move was brought on by the chief prosecutor of the Greek Supreme Court, Xeni Demetriou. As a deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court until June 2016, Demetriou had been responsible for proposing in September 2015 to annul the last acquittal decision regarding Andreas Georgiou and his two colleagues. In the event, the Supreme Court published a decision in August 2016 accepting that annulment proposal and referring the case back to the lower court so that the latter reconsider its decision.
Amazingly, in this latest move, Demetriou as chief prosecutor, initiates an additional, brand new criminal investigation. The case was brought following a publication of two articles in the Greek newspaper Dimokratia at the end of August; the articles were introduced with photos of Andreas Georgiou, as well as of Eurostat and IMF officials.
Apparently based on emails and other sources, Dimokratia focuses on the 2009 deficit calculation. The newspaper’s coverage doesn’t seem to add anything but clamours statements such as “The Mafia of the Deficit,” to what was earlier investigated and then dismissed in previous attempts to bring Georgiou and his colleagues to court. The magazine reported inter alia of burglaries to allegedly make the case against the ELSTAT directors go away, postulating that they incriminate Georgiou and his colleagues.
This new prosecution does not only involve ELSTAT directors but goes further, involving IMF and Eurostat staff. Dimokratia claims that Eurostat’s Director General Walter Radermacher forced Greece to use statistical methods not used in any other country, directly causing the high deficit. The grand scheme was to force Greece to pay foreign banks, or as stated by the magazine: “the dirty plan of the destruction of Greece was planned and executed with distorted data so that the foreign banks can be repaid completely.”
One of the Dimokratia sources is Nikos Stroblos, a former director of the national accounts division of Greece’s statistics office during the years of fraudulent reporting. As so often pointed out on Icelog: quite extraordinarily, Georgiou and ELSTAT directors who brought the reporting of statistics to international standards, are being hounded in Greece but nothing has been done to investigate what went on during the years of false reporting.
International support for Georgiou and his ELSTAT colleagues
Eurostat and the European commission have earlier voiced concern over the turn of events in Greece. On August 24 Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, as well as European statistics, Marianne Thyssen was adamant that the independence of ELSTAT and the quality of its statistics were essential, adding that from the point of view of the Commission and Eurostat “it is absolutely clear that data on Greek Government debt during 2010-2015 have been fully reliable and accurately reported to Eurostat.” The Commission called “upon the Greek authorities to actively and publicly challenge the false impression that data were manipulated during 2010-2015 and to protect ELSTAT and its staff from such unfounded claims.”
The International Statistical Institute, ISI, has earlier voiced great concern for the course of events in Greece and has recently, yet again, called upon “the Greek authorities to actively and publicly challenge the false impression that data were manipulated during 2010-2015 and to protect ELSTAT and its staff from such unfounded claims.”
Further, ISI, “is extremely concerned about the persecution/prosecutions of Mr. Andreas Georgiou, Ms. Athanasia Xenaki and Mr. Kostas Melfetas for doing their work with the highest professionalism, integrity and adherence to international standards and the UN Principles, regardless of political pressure. It is inconceivable that such work, independently verified and approved in line with international standards, could lead to prosecution, and even successful prosecution of those responsible. Instead, such work should be praised!”
Persecution due to correct statistics shows the Tsipras government’s ties to the past
So far, none of this has had the slightest effect on the Tsipras government.
As pointed out recently on Icelog, the case against Georgiou and his colleagues, and now also involving IMF and Eurostat staff, is a test of the Greek government’s commitment to change and to acknowledge fraudulent behaviour in the past.
As pointed out by Tony Barber in the Financial Times on September 12, Tsipras is “yet again testing his EU partners’ patience. He is not only dragging his heels on economic reform, but is letting a criminal prosecution go ahead in a blatantly politicised case against Andreas Georgiou, a former head of the national statistics agency.”
In his review of “Game Over,” ex minister of finance George Papaconstantinou’s book on his six years in politics, Peter Spiegel notes the significance of the ELSTAT case and the Greek tendency to find scapegoats: “… it is Greece’s abiding myth that somehow the day of reckoning was avoidable. Papaconstantinou’s highly readable book makes that falsehood clear. No doubt Mr Georgiou’s trial will do the same.”
As long as Alexis Tsipras and his government continue to persecute the ELSTAT directors it is clear that the old bad ways and corrupt powers are untouched and still ruling.
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For a long time Iceland didn’t know anything but A from the credit rating agencies. As so many other things the As evaporated with the banking collapse in October 2008. Lately, everything has been going swimmingly for the Icelandic economy except the A rating has proven to be elusive. Now, Moody’s has fixed that: Iceland is back to A3, outlook stable. Icelandic politicians and central bankers will nod approvingly, they feel the A should have been there a while ago; the only group, which might feel perplexed are the offshore króna holders who think they are being short-shrifted in spite of the boom.
Icelandic politicians and central bankers feel that Iceland has been doing much better than reflected in the rating agencies’ ratings. This is partly acknowledged by Moody’s (emphasis mine):
Iceland’s rating trajectory has lagged the improvement in some of its core fundamentals since the financial crisis, because of the residual risks posed to economic and financial stability by the complex process of removing the capital controls first imposed in 2008. The second driver for the upgrade of Iceland’s government rating to A3 at this point in time reflects Moody’s expectation that the phasing out of capital controls will proceed smoothly to completion and therefore not disrupt economic and financial stability.
Moody’s argues that Iceland now is far into liberalising the capital controls – the third step, lifting controls on Icelanders and Icelandic entities, is now in sight, having been announced recently. As I pointed out recently, the lifting now longer seems to capture Icelanders, the announcement went largely unnoticed.
As to offshore króna holders Moody’s isn’t worried either:
The first two stages of the liberalization process are now complete. The resolution of the failed bank estates was completed in late 2015. In June 2016, the central bank auctioned part of its FX reserves for ‘offshore krónur’ (mainly non-resident-owned ISK assets trapped when capital controls were imposed in late 2008 at the time the old banks collapsed), thereby further reducing the overhang of such assets. Moody’s view is that while the few remaining holdings of offshore krónur are sizeable at 8% of GDP, the event risk they pose for Iceland’s external position is limited. The liberalization of capital controls on residents will begin immediately following parliamentary approval of the relevant legislation. A further easing of controls on residents is scheduled to take place on January 1, 2017.
If the offshore króna holders thought the rating agencies would favour their points of view, inter alia interpreting the offshore króna measures as a selective default as has been heard from the offshore króna holders, or would be likely to calculate litigation as a risk, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In Iceland, things are going swimmingly, the economy is booming and at long last Moody’s as the first of the rating agencies has acknowledged it. So far, so good.
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