Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

The Georgiou case: the ongoing decade-old shameful saga for Greece

with 3 comments

Among foreign colleagues and international statistical organisations, the case of the former president of ELSTAT, Andreas Georgiou is a cause for grave concern. After Greece was found to have been falsifying its national statistics for years, Georgiou was appointed as head of ELSTAT to put Greek national statistics in order, which he did during his five-year term, 2010 to 2015. It is a sad sign of deep-running corruption in Greece, that even before his term had ended, Georgiou was fighting prosecutions from public bodies and later from private individuals linked to the Greek statistics before Georgiou took office. Yet, no investigation has ever been done into the real scandal: who organised the falsification of the national statistics in the years before Georgiou was appointed to put them in order?

The Georgiou affair is “a witch hunt, not a thirst for justice,” wrote Nikos Konstandaras columnist at Kathimerini in August 2017 in a rare show of understanding in Greece.

Investigations into Andreas Georgiou’s work started already in 2011, only a year after he took over as head of ELSTAT. The first criminal charges – for alleged inflation of the deficit and for violation of duty when Georgiou revised the previously falsified statistics – were brought in 2013; later there were criminal charges and a civil case for slander, ironically brought by the director of Greek national accounts division at the time the falsifications of Greek national statistics were ongoing. Intriguingly, the falsifications have never been investigated, nor those in charge of statistics at the time, only the public servant who put the necessary system in place to produce correct statistics.*5

The “simple slander” case: truth and punishment

In a civil case, brought against Georgiou by Nikos Stroblos, director of Greek national accounts statistics from 2006 to 2010, Georgiou was found liable by a Greek First Instance Court in 2017 for something called “simple slander.” According to the court decision, Georgiou’s statement in 2014, when he defended the Eurostat-validated revised Greek deficit and debt data for 2006 to 2009, was found to be true. However, it was also found to be damaging to the reputation of Stroblos. Georgiou’s appeal against the First Instance Court decision was – after repeated delays – ruled on by the Appeals Court in January this year and was rejected.

More specifically, in the 2014 press release Georgiou had defended the revised fiscal statistics of 2006 to 2009. In effect, he was defending the statistics produced under his watch, a revision of the statistics that the European Commission/Eurostat in 2010 and the European Parliament in 2014 had characterised as “statistical frauds.”

In his fateful statement, Georgiou was responding to the ongoing politically instigated prosecutions and attacks from most of the Greek political spectrum, on the revised statistics. Statistics, which had already been validated eight times since November 2010, when they were first published by Georgiou.

In his 2014 press release he pointed at both the repeated EU validation of the revised statistics and the EU verdict for the previous misreported statistics, asking why the courts did not instead investigate the previous period of the proverbial “Greek statistics.” Further he asked, why the court only invited those responsible for these misreported statistics, including the plaintiff, as the expert witnesses, and not also the EU officials of Eurostat mandated by law with assessing the quality of European statistics.

Georgiou lost at the first instance civil court level for stating the truth, as recognised by the court, and for defending the validated European statistics as he was required to do by EU and Greek law. He had a justified interest in defending the credibility of the newly reformed statistics office, ELSTAT, and he was exercising his human right of free expression.

The private cases against Georgiou by a former director of the Greek statistics office

The former director of the national accounts division of the Greek statistics office claimed that his reputation had been damaged by Georgiou’s press release. Yet, it was actually this director that had publicly slandered Georgiou and Eurostat as evidenced, for example, in an interview in March 2013.

The former director stated: “the wrong multiplier … is on account of the inflated statistics Georgiou sent to them …  so with the inflation and alteration of the statistics they took from the [Greek] people more money than the country could bear! … the temporary postponement of the Greek bankruptcy in order to pay back in full the French and German banks …  was the goal of the inflation of the deficit by the Greek Statistical Service following orders from Eurostat.”

Quite remarkably, the January 2021 Appeals Court decision rejecting Georgiou’s appeal omits any reference to this interview. Though repeatedly submitted as evidence to the Appeals Court and to the lower court, the Appeals Court decision claims that the plaintiff “had never expressed in the printed or electronic press accusations against [Georgiou].”

Meanwhile, the March 2013 interview with Stroblos was published again on 18 April 2021 as part of an article that celebrates the recent rejection of the appeal of Georgiou titled “New conviction of Georgiou of ELSTAT!!!” The April article highlights some of Stroblos’ public statements, such as “I refused to undersign the inflation of the deficit” and “Then [the Eurostat section chief] sent an expert … to persuade me to approve the changes [to the deficit calculation]. I refused! The work of the National Statistical Institute is to defend the interests of the country and not the interests of Eurostat!” – An altogether remarkable statement.

According to First Instance Court decision, Georgiou is obliged to both make a public apology, by publishing large parts of the convicting court decision in a specified Greek newspaper at Georgiou’s expense, and pay a compensation of EUR10,000, plus interest since 2014 and court expenses, to Stroblos. In addition, there is fine of EUR200 a day for any delays in publishing the apology. All this was upheld by the Appeals Court in its January 2021 decision.

If this January 2021 decision is appealed to the Greek Supreme Court, it seems that the Court can either return the case to the Appeals Court that Georgiou be tried yet again, a process that can potentially take three or more years – or the Supreme Court can, within months, irrevocably confirm the January decision against Georgiou. This means that there seem to be now only two possibilities left, one worse than the other. Georgiou has decided to appeal.

Political action running parallel to the two private cases against Georgiou

This civil case is an integral part of the overall political persecution of Georgiou in Greece. In the first instance, the case was brought at the same time as a criminal case for criminal slander, both brought by the same plaintiff, the two cases being intertwined. Former government officials volunteered and appeared as witnesses for Stroblos in both the civil case and the criminal case and the criminal case conviction[i] was cited during the civil trial.

The two cases were a combined criminal and civil broadside against Georgiou to undermine credible statistics. Common sense, as well as evidence of political intervention,[ii] indicates that these cases are part and parcel of the stream of persecution that has trailed Georgiou for accurately producing European statistics for Greece.

A closer look at the media coverage makes it clear that since 2011, the slander cases have been at the core of the attacks on Georgiou for heading and defending the revision of the 2009 deficit figures. Attacks, levelled by both major political parties as they alternated in power.

There is no lack of examples. Press reports (in Greek), at the time of Georgiou’s press release, titled “Dissatisfaction in Maximos Mansion [PM Antonis Samaras’ office] for the statements of the head of ELSTAT” noted: “the statements of the president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority, Andreas Georgiou, caused irritation at the Ministry of Finance and at the Maximos Mansion. Government sources stressed that “it is not appropriate for an administrator to express such judgments”.  At the same time, Prokopios Pavlopoulos, a former top minister of the 2004 to 2009 New Democracy government and later president of Greece nominated by the SYRIZA government, initiated in the Greek Parliament Committee on Institutions and Transparency a successful vote, with support from both New Democracy and SYRIZA MPs in the Committee, to ask for Georgiou’s removal on account of his July 2014 press release but Georgiou’s removal was successfully resisted by Greece’s European partners.

It is hardly a coincidence that only a few weeks later, Stroblos filed his two suits against Georgiou. Stroblos not only used the above parliamentary committee’s decision as a pillar of his legal case. He has continuously been encouraged and tangibly supported by Greek political figures who have acted as trial witnesses and lawyers in his cases against Georgiou.[iii]

The trials of Georgiou for slander were used to publicly defend the pre-2010 government’s misreported deficit and debt statistics, to exonerate this past statistical fraud, and to attack the revised European statistics produced by ELSTAT under Georgiou in 2010 and repeatedly validated by Eurostat in the years since. For example, during one of the trials, a former General Secretary of the Ministry of Finance from the 2004 to 2009 Karamanlis government testified as a prosecution witness, among other things, that “in the period 2004-2009 no intervention in the statistics took place.” This patently false statement was highlighted and widely publicised in politically friendly press coverage of the trials.

The Greek government funds the plaintiff’s case against Georgiou in spite of its promise to the ECB

Quite shockingly, during SYRIZA’s time in government, the government funded a significant part of Stroblos’ legal fees, which seems a misuse of the law and a perversion of the original intent of the law under which the funds were provided.

In the midst of Georgiou’s political persecution, the European Central Bank, ECB, and the Eurozone Finance Ministers pressed the Greek Government to provide funding to assist Georgiou in defending his statistics against the legal actions in Greece. As previously reported on Icelog, leaked minutes from the Eurogroup meeting 22 May 2017 show that ECB governor Mario Draghi brought the ELSTAT case up at the beginning of the meeting, asking that, as agreed earlier, priority should be given to implementing “actions on ELSTAT that have been agreed in the context of the programme. Current and former ELSTAT presidents should be indemnified against all costs arising from legal actions against them and their staff.

Greek minister of finance Euclid Tsakalotos said that “On ELSTAT, we are happy for this to become a key deliverable before July.

Though crystal clear that this legal provision was to be specifically directed to assist “current and former ELSTAT presidents” against legal actions arising against them, the Greek government perverted this intent. The law was used to also fund the misguided efforts of an individual, challenging the very statistics the ECB and Eurogroup sought to defend. A stunning perversion of the intended purpose of these funds, underscoring that the Greek Government has funded, at least in part, an effort to continue the persecution of Georgiou.

Praise from foreign statisticians and organisations, persecution by Greek political forces

In stark contrast to the persecutions in Greece, Georgiou’s case has over the years had the attention of individuals and organisations all over the world: the IMF, the European Union, Eurostat, the American Statistical Association, the International Statistical Institute and the International Association for Official Statistics. All these individuals and organisations point out the gravity of the matter: that a public servant, involved in the gathering and processing of national statistics, the lifeblood of any modern state, suffers persecution for his work.

In early April this year, the German Süddeutsche Zeitung brought an article on Georgiou’s case, pointing out the support he gets abroad is the opposite of course of events in Greece.

It is also noteworthy that under the headline “Denial of Fair Public Trial” Georgiou’s case was mentioned in the US State Department’s 2019 and 2020 Country Reports on Human Right Practices. The 2019 Report stated:

Observers reported the judiciary was at times inefficient and sometimes subject to influence and corruption… On February 28, the Council of Appeals cleared, for the third time, the former head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority, Andreas Georgiou, of charges that he falsified 2009 budget data to justify Greece’s first international bailout. The Supreme Court prosecutor had twice revoked his acquittal by the Council of Appeals. Although technically possible, the current government has expressed no interest in revisiting the case. EU officials repeatedly denounced Georgiou’s prosecution, reaffirming confidence in the reliability and accuracy of data produced by the country’s statistical authority under his leadership.

The 2020 Report repeated the statement on the judiciary’s inefficiency and at times subject to influence. Further:

Observers continued to track the case of Andreas Georgiou, who was the head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority during the Greek financial crisis. The Council of Appeals has cleared Georgiou three times of a criminal charge that he falsified 2009 budget data to justify Greece’s first international bailout. At year’s end the government had made no public statements whether the criminal cases against him were officially closed. Separately, a former government official filed a civil suit in 2014 as a private citizen against Georgiou. The former official said he was slandered by a press release issued from Georgiou’s office. Georgiou was convicted of simple slander in 2017. Georgiou appealed that ruling, and at year’s end the court had not yet delivered a verdict.

Given where Georgiou’s case seems to be at, this chapter will still stand for the 2021 Report.

On May 1, Steve Pierson director of science policy at the American Statistical Association and Lynn Wilkinson from Friends of Greece, wrote an article on the AMSTATNEWS website, the ASA magazine, under the headline “ASA, International Community Continue to Decry Georgiou Persecution.” The article gives an overview of the persecution, including the still-ongoing slander case, and points out the false narrative that is being propagated by the continuous prosecutions, as opposed to the work Georgiou did to put in place the proper statistical methods, still the framework at ELSTAT.

Pierson and Wilkinson point out the US State Department’s mention of Georgiou’s case. “Besides the injustice of the prosecutions, the harm to Greece’s reputation, and the undermining of official statistics, Greece’s treatment of Georgiou is also a violation of Georgiou’s human rights.

Persecuting a scientific government official for doing his job with rigor and integrity to produce official statistics is deeply concerning,” ASA President Robert Santos said after the Appeals Court in January.

When will the political persecution of a statistician stop in Greece?

One reason Georgiou’s cause has gathered so much interest is the implications in so many countries for civil servants doing their job diligently. And that’s also why his case has been taken up by individuals and organisations. In a tweet March 24, Olivier Blanchard, ex chief economist at the IMF, now a professor emeritus at the MIT, wrote that what is happening to Georgiou is unacceptable. “Now in 10th year, Greece should end the injustice and exonerate him.

As mentioned above, Georgiou will be appealing the January ruling to the Greek Supreme Court. At the time of the Appeals Court ruling he said: “Certainly, what happens in this case, when it reaches the Greek Supreme Court, will have implications in Greece and in the EU more broadly, for the soundness of future policies that are supposed to be based on honest and reliable official statistics but also for the rule of law, human rights and democracy.

The implications from the January 2021 rejection of Georgiou’s appeal of the court decision for simple slander, where he was found liable for making true statements, seem truly staggering. How can democracy function when someone who participates in a public debate in order to refute false accusations of grave misdeeds and tells the truth, as the courts accepted he did, is then punished? The whole basis of democracy is free expression and communication of ideas and information for citizens to make their choices.

How can democracy survive when the state suppresses the free expression of ideas and information that are recognised by court as being true? And how can any good policy decisions be made for societies to prosper when truth is suppressed? Furthermore, how can science advance when truth is punished? Is it not evident that EU prosperity but also the functioning and the image of democracy in its realm are at stake? This case is a stain on Greece but a stain that also falls on the European Union, as Greece is a member state, inter alia reporting statistics to Eurostat. It is therefore worrying the EU and EU institutions have recently been silent on the Georgiou case.

[i] The “companion” criminal case for slander led to Georgiou’s conviction to one year in jail but was annulled by the Greek Supreme Court on account of serious legal errors and the statute of limitations did not allow the ordered retrial.

[ii] As an example, in response to Georgiou’s conviction in criminal court for “simple” slander, former Minister of Interior in the 2012 to 2014 New Democracy government, Mr. Michelakis, published an article entitled: “First conviction of A. Georgiou for the “inflated” deficit of 2009.” The article states: “The story of the inflated deficit of 2009 that was reported by George Papandreou and led our country to the Memoranda is beginning to be revealed through court proceedings, effectively vindicating the government of Kostas Karamanlis.

[iii] Officials that served as witnesses at the trial for slander included George Kouris, former General Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, and Stephanos Anagnostou, former Viceminister to the Prime Minister and Spokesperson of the Government. Both served in New Democracy governments. The lawyer for the plaintiff was Yiannis Adamopoulos, the former president of the Athens Bar association, who had been elected to that post as a New Democracy party member and had played a major role as president of the Athens Bar in instigating the prosecutions of Georgiou about the 2009 deficit figures.

*Icelog has been following the Georgiou case since 2015. Here is an extensive overview, from April 2020, on the whole saga. Here is the first blog, from June 2015, which deals in detail with the statistics, the falsification saga and the adjustments that were made, the last one by Georgiou; this blog was also cross-posted with Fistful of Euros and The Corner. A shorter version was posted on Coppola Comment (thanks to Frances for the edititing!) and Naked Capitalism. – For numerous other Icelog blogs on the case, see here.

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

May 24th, 2021 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

3 Responses to 'The Georgiou case: the ongoing decade-old shameful saga for Greece'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'The Georgiou case: the ongoing decade-old shameful saga for Greece'.

  1. […] Sigrún Davíðsdóttir writes about the history of the “simple slander” judgment against Andreas Georgiou. Read the English language article here. […]

  2. or better not to think about it ))
    http://derswillmeze.ga/chk/3

    Anntow

    5 Jul 21 at 9:29 am

  3. […] The Georgiou case: the ongoing decade-old shameful saga for Greece […]

Leave a Reply