Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

Archive for August, 2021

The Georgiou case: from bad to worse, also for Greece

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Parts of Greece are consumed by horrifying wildfires but in the Greek legal system there is a slow-burning fire exposing Greek corruption, linked to the Greek financial crisis of more than a decade ago. The relentless persecution of Andreas Georgiou is not only a personal matter but is part of a saga of political corruption and European weaknesses.

In autumn 2009, when the financial crisis in Greece was coming to the surface, Greece was found out, for the second time, of having falsified its national accounts, i.e. the statistics of national debt, deficit and GDP. When a Greek IMF statistician, Andreas Georgiou took over as the new head of ELSTAT, the Greek statistical office, the statistics had already been partly adjusted. It fell to Georgiou to make the final adjustment after he took office in August 2010.

In September 2011, an array of legal investigations of Georgiou and some of his colleagues were opened. The first criminal charges, for alleged inflation of the deficit and for violation of duty, by revising the previously falsified statistics, were brought in 2013. Later, cases against other ELSTAT staff were dropped but the legal case remaining against Georgiou is a civil case, where the plaintiff is Nikos Stroblos, director of Greek national accounts statistics from 2006 to 2010 and still working at ELSTAT.

Stroblos sued Georgiou for slander. Stroblos maintained that when Georgiou made a statement in 2014, defending the revised Greek deficit and debt data for 2006 to 2009 – a revision validated by Eurostat – it had been damaging for Stroblos’ reputation. In 2017, a Greek First Instance Court found Georgiou instead liable for something called “simple slander:” that is, the Court ruled Georgiou had told the truth but by telling the truth he damaged Stroblos’ reputation.

The Court ruled that Georgiou should pay Stroblos a compensation of EUR10,000 plus interest since 2014, pay Stroblos’ legal expenses and publish large part of the court decision in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, as a ‘public apology.’ A delay in publishing the apology would result in a fine of EUR200 a day.

Georgiou’s appeal of the First Instance Court decision was rejected last winter by an Appeals Court. Now Georgiou has taken his appeal to the Greek Supreme Court. After his appeal was submitted to the Supreme Court, Stroblos presented Georgiou with a demand for immediately fulfilling the 2017 court decision: an immediate payment of EUR18,433 (the original EUR10,000 plus interest), to publish within fifteen days the excerpts of the court decision, with the EUR200 fine a day for any delay.

By the end of a year, this amount will be EUR73,000, rising quickly. If there is no payment in full of the award and any fines, the plaintiff can at any time seize funds or assets Georgiou has in Greece, including the home of Georgiou’s mother, whose home is in Georgiou’s name.

It is interesting to note that Stroblos made this demand two weeks after Georgiou had filed to the Greek Supreme Court a request for annulment of the Appeals Court decision in Stroblos’s case against Georgiou.

Political “heresies”

The Greek government is not an innocent bystander in this civil case. The government has given Stroblos financial support in his case against Georgiou. Georgiou put Greek national accounts in order. Stroblos was working at the Greek statistical office at the time of the falsified accounts. The Greek government has actively supported cases against Georgiou, a civil servant who did his duty in an exemplary way. The government has made no attempt at all to investigate who ordered the national accounts to be falsified and who then carried out that order, not just once but ongoing for about a decade before the final reckoning in autumn of 2009.

Greek political forces have pursued investigations and court cases against Georgiou with the relentlessness of the 17th century Roman Inquisition when Italian political and clerical forces at the time wanted the “heresy” of Galileo Galilei’s heliocentrism stamped out. At the centre of the Greek case is a political battle of corrupt forces holding on to a certain version of the saga of the Greek financial crisis.

As long as the corrupt forces are shown to be so relentless and so strong, Greek civil servants can’t be at ease in doing their job. They can’t be sure that the rule of law will protect them in doing their duty. On the contrary, the lesson they can draw from the Georgiou case is that should they inadvertently go against political interests, they can have years and decades of their lives blighted by legal wrangling with a state that isn’t there to protect correct procedures but to protect corrupt political forces.

As long as the Georgiou case is ongoing, Greece as a modern European democratic country is not in a good place. Human rights of a former public servant have been severely challenged in the Georgiou case.

Empty Greek promises to the EU

However, this story of relentless persecution of the former head of ELSTAT, does not solely touch Greece. It is also a matter for the European Union.

During his time as governor of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi brought the Georgiou case up in a meeting of EU finance ministers in May 2017, as Icelog has previously reported. Leaked minutes from the Eurogroup meeting 22 May 2017 show that Draghi asked that Greece, as agreed earlier, took action to execute what had already been agreed in the EU programme for Greece: “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 answered that “On ELSTAT, we are happy for this to become a key deliverable before July.”

This was July 2017 but so far, this promise hasn’t been delivered. The Greek Government indeed perverted the promise to assist “current and former ELSTAT presidents” in legal actions against them. Instead of aiding Georgiou, the provision was used to also fund the misguided efforts of Stroblos in challenging the very statistics the ECB and Eurogroup sought to defend. A shocking perversion of the purpose of these funds.

Statistics are a key tool in any modern country or organisation. Georgiou has had support from the European Parliament and from European and international statistical associations. The American Statistical Association, which has long followed the Georgiou case and supports him fully, has already reacted to this latest turn in the Georgiou case, asking for the persecution to end with a complete exoneration of Georgiou. ASA President Katherine Ensor points out that the latest turn “is also a clear message to Greek official statisticians not to speak up. All this is undoubtedly detrimental for official statistics, evidence-based policymaking and informed democratic processes, not to mention human rights of scientists.”

The European Union is dependent on sound national accounts and statistics from its member countries. It is very worrying that it has not taken a more decisive action in the Georgiou case. The work done by Georgiou at ELSTAT was guided by European Statistical System principles. By allowing Greek political forces to undermine this work and persecute a national statistician, the European Union is undermining its own statistics. The European Union should understand the importance of shielding civil servants in the member states against political forces, undermining the vital tool that statistics are.

*Icelog has followed the Georgiou case from 2015. Here is the last blog on the case, with links to earlier blogs.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

August 11th, 2021 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorised