Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

The ELSTAT case takes a new turn – IMF and Eurostat staff implicated

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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.

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

September 16th, 2016 at 11:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

5 Responses to 'The ELSTAT case takes a new turn – IMF and Eurostat staff implicated'

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  1. If it is so, i.e., Alexis Tsipras and his government continue to persecute the ELSTAT directors because they did their job with the highest professional independency, should one consider ELSTAT’s independency under Tsipras!

    PhilomenaNL

    18 Sep 16 at 10:06 pm

  2. Well, I didn’t expect such good articles about Greece in an Icelandic blog. Globalization is here to stay.
    Concerning the case of ELSTAT I would like to add my own perspective. I claim a special understanding of how the Greek legal system operates as I grew up surrounded by the country’s most senior jugdes, my father being one of them. Greek civil servants and judges do not operate based on a set of written, clear rules only. Their main job, especially of judges, is to protect the political class and the state, often considered one and the same(the Greek word is γκούβερνο which is untranslatable in English, so I use ruling class or political class instead). When a Greek judge is handed a case his/her first thought is: what does the political class want out of this? More specifically what does the minister want out of this and are his/her interests involved? If the answer is negative ie there is no detectable political interest, the law is applied as it should. This no political interest case covers about the 99,99% of cases, so the vast majority of people see nothing strange. The serious problem appear with the 0,01% of cases where there is detectable political interest. These can be many different situations, including, crucially, big investments, especially foreign ones. Please note that the minister never calls the judge or vice versa. He/she operates on his/her assumptions. It is this strange behaviour that makes uprooting the problem almost impossible and the behaviour of the legal system so arbitrary. This is how old imperial legal systems (Byzantine, Ottoman) operated. The emperor was almost divine and, definitely, not bound by trivial things like laws, arithmetic etc. If the numbers showed that the Emperor was wrong we change the numbers. There are many manifestations of this approach. An old bank lawyer, for example, will tell you that, until recently, banks always won in the High Court. (Areios Pagos) as banks were state owned ie political class members. Generally Greeks consider political decisions to be above the law and expect the courts to protect the political class This is not considered something wrong. It is considered positive. It is expected that corruption etc prosecutions are carried out only against those that are marked for political death.
    This is how the ELSTAT case operates. Some idiot decided to play defender of the political orthodoxy and accused Mr Georgiou of intentionally inflating the deficit, adding, for good measure dark forces, treasonous behaviour, ghoulish financiers etc. Using this as an excuse the courts intervene and try to destroy Mr Georgiou, because they sense that reliable statistics will greatly impede the freedom of the political class. This approach has a qualitative difference from the belief that they try to cover past misdeeds. What this is all about are the limits of political authority in Greece. Mr Georgiou not only reduced the freedom of maneuver of the Greek political class but did so by rubbing it in their faces. For most Greeks, not just politicians, this is treason. So everybody turns against him. If there was a way to punish people without stopping future finance ministers from manipulating statistics then people would probably be in jail already. Keep in mind that I doubt that ministers ever said a word about this to any member of the judiciary. The politicians see something they like, so they stand aside and claim not to intervene in the operations of the legal system. The judges see this as encouragement and press on.
    Now for the good news. It seems that the quartet has caught up. The demand that the Greek government must go to court and defend Mr Georgiou fervently, publicly and successfully or no money is the best way to break this peculiar, archaic nexus. My suspicion is that the matter will be consigned to Ελληνικές καλένδες, ie it will postponed indefinitely. But the message will be passed on to the relevant persons ie Greek prosecutors” There are limits to your dogmas. Be careful”
    If you want a better understanding of the Greek political and legal operations look, on top of ELSTAT, on one running case, the various legal travails of Mr Marinakis and the older, strange case of P. Psomiadis (Παναγιώτης Ψωμιάδης) formerly Salonica prefect and all around N. Greece political strongman. He was brought down and forced to abandon politics for a 3000 € irregular payment to a political ally, after a 10 year unrelenting legal battle. Be careful: there is no dirt like Greek dirt.

    theAthensdog

    19 Sep 16 at 9:43 am

  3. Right, PhilomenaNL, the independence of ELSTAT under Tsipras is a cause of concern.

    theAthensdog, thanks for a great insight into the Greek thinking re the Courts, very informative.

    Sigrún Davídsdóttir

    20 Sep 16 at 8:10 am

  4. theAthensdog, in addition: thanks for kind words; you are right,it might be surprising to find something on Greece on this blog. The reason is that I’m very interestested in the small euro crisis countries. Having visited Greece, Ireland and Cyprus I keep an eye on them.

    Sigrún Davídsdóttir

    20 Sep 16 at 8:13 am

  5. […] ELSTAT saga started after Georgiou had only been in office for just over year. It really is a saga (here my earlier reports and detailed account of it) of upside down criminal justice but it’s so […]

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