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Archive for September, 2022

Andreas Georgiou and the eternal wait for justice in Greece

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The case of Andreas Georgiou has again surfaced in the Greek media – a case that’s still unresolved, leaving Georgiou living with the same uncertainty as in the last decade, and potentially facing severe cost. His case is also a sad example of political corruption in Greece, the politically convenient disregard by EU institutions and the unwillingness of other EU politicians to express view on actions taken in other countries than their own – being too polite, as Mario Monti once said. Georgiou’s case also shows that civil servants, who are not whistleblowers, have little or no protection against corrupt politicians.

In autumn 2009, Greek authorities were found one more time to have falsified national statistics regarding the government deficit; this time the falsified accounts led to a massive debt crisis in Greece and the EU. In the following months, the statistics were corrected in several steps. The last bit was corrected in late 2010, by the then new head of ELSTAT, Andreas Georgiou, who had been headhunted from the IMF to oversee necessary changes at the Greek statistics office. That has turned into a legal nightmare for Georgiou, exposing political corruption in Greece and unwillingness to acknowledge what went on at the time before the Greek statistics were finally fully corrected. Georgiou has been persecuted but it beggars belief that the falsification of the statistics – who organised it and why – has never been investigated.

Over the years, Georgiou has faced a flurry of legal cases. Some of these cases have evaporated over the eleven years since investigations against him first began in September 2011. There are however still two ongoing cases against Georgiou: criminal conviction for violation of duty, now being tried at the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, and a civil case for slander.

Recent coverage of Georgiou’s case in Greek media shows that the cases are not forgotten but yet, there is never any attention paid to the original sin in this case: the falsification of the Greek statistics that played its part in pushing Greece and the EU into financial crisis.

Waiting for the ECHR

In 2011, a criminal investigation for violation of duty was opened against Georgiou. This happened only a year after he was trusted to take office in order to put into practice European rules and regulations regarding public finance statistics. In 2013, he faced criminal charges for violation of duty. He was acquitted at the First Instance Court, but inexplicably that acquittal was annulled a few days later. In 2017, two years after he left office, Georgiou was convicted at the Appeals Court and sentenced to two years in prison, suspended unless there would be a second conviction.

The conviction related to not putting the revised statistics of the government deficit, from November 2010, to vote at the then board of the Greek national statistics office. By not doing it, Georgiou followed European rules: the statistics are the sole responsibility of the head of the national statistics office in any EU member state.

After the Greek Supreme Court dismissed Georgiou’s appeal case, Georgiou took the case to the ECHR on account of violations of his human rights by Greek courts in the process of convicting him for violation of duty. ECHR accepted to consider the case in late 2021.  The Greek government was given the opportunity to voluntarily acknowledge that Georgiou’s human rights had been breached in this case.

So far, the government has not only not taken that opportunity, but it has submitted arguments to ECHR in May 2022 that there was no such violation and, effectively, that the Greek courts rightly convicted Georgiou. Greece now risks a condemnation by the ECHR as the latter adjudicates the case of Georgiou vs Greece. If Georgiou wins at the ECHR, then, according to Greek law, he would be entitled to be retried in Greece. While that might be a long process, it would give Georgiou – at least in theory – a path to exoneration in his birth country.

“The simple slander” – where statements found to be true can still be used against defendant

In the civil case Georgiou still faces, the plaintiff is Nikos Stroblos, former director of Greek national accounts statistics from 2006 to 2010 and notably still working at ELSTAT. The case refers to a press release Georgiou issued in 2014, when he was already finding himself subjected to criminal prosecutions, alleging that he inflated the government deficit figures so that Greece would incur extraordinary damages and be subjected to the EU supported economic adjustment programs.

Stroblos claimed that when Georgiou defended the revised Greek government deficit and debt data for 2006 to 2009 – a revision validated multiple times by Eurostat – it was damaging for Stroblos’ reputation. In 2017, a Greek First Instance Court found Georgiou 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. Georgiou appealed to the Appeals Court but lost.

Following the Appeals Court ruling, Georgiou was to pay Stroblos a compensation of EUR10,000 plus interest since 2014, in addition to paying Stroblos’ legal expenses and publishing 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.

In autumn last year, there was a court injunction against Stroblos enforcing the ruling. This case is now set to come up in the Greek Supreme Court in January 2023. The positive outcome for Georgiou would be to get the ruling annulled as the case would then have to be retried by the Appeals Court, possibly in 2024 or later.

The injunction means that Stroblos can’t, for the moment, seize assets Georgiou has in Greece, including the home of Georgiou’s mother, which is in Georgiou’s name. Consequently, not only is Georgiou facing serious financial threats by Stroblos but also his wider family. Although a retrial would be a positive outcome, since it gives Georgiou the possibility of exoneration in his country and – importantl – not losing his family’s home, it also means a continued legal fight for years to come, with no end in sight for the uncertainty for him and his family.

On whose side is the Greek government?

Greek politicians have often claimed – usually to foreign media – that they have nothing to do with Georgiou’s cases. The Greek court system is independent, they claim, as it should be in any democratic state.

That there has been no political interference can definitely be disputed – and as pointed out before: there has never been any political will to investigate the saga of the falsified statistics, which happened before Georgiou took office.

One indication of where the Greek government’s allegiance is in the case of the civil suit by Stroblos is that he has had financial support from the government for pursuing Georgiou in court. As previously reported on Icelog, the Syriza government, then in office, funded a significant part of Stroblos’ legal fees, which seems an abuse of the law under which the funds were provided.

The 2017 law was supposed to assist “current and former ELSTAT presidents” against legal actions arising against them. Instead, the Greek government perverted this intent and funded 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.

In 2017, in the midst of Georgiou’s political persecution, the European Central Bank, ECB, and the Eurozone Finance Ministers had 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 had 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.

The answer from the Greek minister of finance Euclid Tsakalotos was that “On ELSTAT, we are happy for this to become a key deliverable before July (2017).” – Needless to say, the Greek government has not taken the action promised. Sadly, EU institutions have not pursued the matter.

On a visit to Washington DC this past May, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the now ruling New Democracy party was asked about Georgiou’s case. The question came up as the US State Department has pointed out Georgiou’s case (see here, under section E. Denial of Fair Public Trial) in its latest report on human rights. Mitsotakis said it wasn’t appropriate for him to comment on an ongoing legal case, but he would like to see it finished. Further, he claimed the Greek justice system had a structural and systemic problem; cases took far too long but his government was working on solving that problem (see here, 21:28-22:59).

It is worth noting that Mitsotakis made his comment just before his  government submitted arguments against Georgiou in ECHR.

Although Mitsotakis is right about the slow workings of the Greek courts, that is not the main problem facing Georgiou. His case shows how the justice system has indeed been weaponised for political motives in order to persecute a civil servant who did his job.

International attention – recent coverage

It is rare that a public servant is prosecuted for doing his job. Georgiou’s case has over the years attracted international attention and been decried by professional organisations such as the American Statistical Association, the International Statistical Institute, the Royal Statistical Society, the International Science Council and others (see here, here and here for recent public statements and letters) .

At the same time, however, there has been deafening silence for a couple of years now from the side of the European Commission regarding the above two instances of obviously politically motivated legal proceedings against Georgiou. These cases used to be monitored and publicly commented on by the Commission in its quarterly reports (that were part of the post-program surveillance of Greece) until the end of 2019. However, starting in 2020, all mention of the persecution has been expunged from subsequent post-program surveillance Commission reports, for what can only be seen as political convenience. By doing this, the European Commission is planting the seeds for further problems for European statistics.

The case of Andreas Georgiou also draws attention to the fact that in many countries, also at a European level, regulation connected to whistle-blowers has been strengthened. However, persecuting civil servants for doing their job is rare. Subsequently, little attention has been paid to that danger in European countries or at EU level. Georgiou’s case shows that when this is the case, also at European level, there is little or no protection to be had.

*See here for earlier Icelog blogs on Georgiou’s case.

 

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

September 6th, 2022 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorised