Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

Search Results

Media reactions to Georgiou’s conviction – Kathimerini: it’s a “witch hunt”

with one comment

There has been a general outcry in international media after the recent sentencing of former ELSTAT president Andreas Georgiou following six years of persecution by Greek authorities. With the exception of Kathimerini, the Greek press has however mostly been silent. As pointed out in the foreign media the “witch hunt” bodes ill for Greece and now, ELSTAT is indeed struggling with the national statistics… again.

The reporting on the recent conviction of former ELSTAT president Andreas Georgiou in Greece and abroad is decidedly different: abroad there is condemnation and genuine worry, in Greece there is little of that though with noticeable exception: Kathimerini did not hesitate to speak of “witch hunt.” The Financial Times’s headline was a “legal farce calls Greek reform into question.”

The Georgiou case exposes a rift in Greek society

In a short and concise comment by the newspaper’s editor, Nikos Konstandaras, sets out how “the very name Andreas Georgiou – has come to symbolize a rift in society.” On one side there are those who worry about the future of Greece, “knowing that only rational measures will help Greece get back on its feet; on the other, a heterogeneous crowd of indignant citizens and cynical politicians, united by their passionate desire to abdicate responsibility for the past and the present, demands that reality bend to their will.

I am afraid that the second group has more passion, a longer history and the momentum that the first one does not: It is, of course, much easier to rouse the crowd with promises to avoid pain than to embrace it. And loading all the responsibilities for the country’s problems on one man, the former head of Greece’s statistical service, is most seductive: Those who are truly to blame get to play judge, while others believe that because one person is guilty for the crisis and for austerity, the rest don’t have to pay anything… History, though, will record the role they played. In the end they will be loaded with more blame than that which they are trying to saddle onto others.”

The political figure behind the ELSTAT persecution: Karamanlis

Even before the verdict at the end of July, Kathimerini was clear about the direction of the ELSTAT trial – Kostas Karamanlis is the driving force as shown on a cartoon where Karamanlis, playing a video game, is hell-bent on not letting Andreas Georgiou get away. Same could be seen in a recent article in Parapolitika: Karamanlis is still furious with Georgiou and could not hide his satisfaction when Georgiou was sentenced.

As mentioned by Kathimerini when it brought the news of the conviction, this was “the second time that the country’s top prosecutor overturned an earlier ruling in favor of Georgiou, in a case that has become a touchstone for relations between Greece and its creditors.”

The worrying thing is that the Karamanlis faction is still fighting the battles of 2010, still pretending that the fraudulent statistics, indeed exposed before Georgiou took office, are somehow part of evil foreigners kicking Greece.

Worries among international partners and professionals

The various international media and organisations are rightly worried about the relentless persecution of Georgiou: it is a clear sign of political unwillingness to face the facts of political governance in Greece.

For good reasons, the European Commission has been following the case with trepidation but so far it has been utterly unsuccessful in preventing the ELSTAT staff persecutions. Spokeswoman for the Commission’s financial issues Annika Breidthardt said after the conviction that it was not in line with previous acquittal for the same charges:

The independence of statistical offices in our member states is a key pillar the proper functioning of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), this is why it is protected by EU law. We take note of the specific ruling which we note that is not in line with the previous ruling in the previous procedure. We understand that today’s ruling is open for appealing on legal grounds before the Greek Supreme Court. “We have full confidence in the reliability and accuracy of ELSTAT data during 2010-2015 and beyond” … We underlined the importance of the independence of ELSTAT as a key commitment under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding of the Program,” said Breidthardt.

As the International Statistical Institute, ISI has pointed out, Georgiou acted in complete compliance with Eurostat practice, European Statistics Code of Practice: “Not only is the verdict unfair to Mr Georgiou, it also has negative implications for the integrity of Greek and European official statistics. Accordingly, the ISI calls on the Greek Government and the EU Commission, in consultation with their respective statistical authorities, to take all necessary measures to challenge this verdict and seek its reversal as a matter of the utmost priority.”

The absurdity of it all

As pointed out the The Greek Reporter there is the absurdity of the whole process: “Just to let the absurdity sink in: Greece falsified its official statistics for years & the only person prosecuted is the one who fixed them.”

Bloomberg commentator Leonid Bershidsky pointed out that the legal troubles of Georgiou “are about conflicting political visions of the country.”

In a personal and insightful article on Politico, the economist Megan Greene who has followed the Greek crisis from early on, raises the question of the integrity of Greece’s institutions.

New doubts regarding ELSTAT figures

There is now, again a looming suspicion hanging over ELSTAT. As FT reported recently, some discrepancy has surfaced regarding Greek national statistics, this time related to the country’s GDP figures leading the paper to connect this to the ELSTAT case: “The announcement came amid renewed scrutiny of Elstat following an outcry over the conviction by an Athens court last week of Andreas Georgiou, who headed the agency between 2010 and 2015 for “violating his duties.” Mr Georgiou faces a series of trials for allegedly inflating Greece’s budget deficit figure in 2009, the year the country plunged into financial crisis, even though all the statistics produced during his tenure were accepted without reservation by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical service.”

These are only few voices from a large choir of worrying voices. So far, Andreas Georgiou has been prosecuted for the last six years. As long as this is going on, the political forces around Kostas Karamalis clinging on to the past and obstructing a healthy revival of the Greek economy, have the upper hand. That is profoundly worrying for the Europen Union, the IMF and other international partners working with Greece for, hopefully, a better and more sound future for the country.

Greece needs an independent report on its crisis – as was done in Iceland

Incidentally, in Iceland after the October 2008 banking collapse there were also political voices claiming the collapse was all the work of foreigners somehow wanting to get control of Iceland, its natural resources etc. What finally and effectively silenced these voices was the very thorough report published in April 2010 by the Special Investigation Commission.

This independent commission did a brilliant work of clarifying all the relevant aspects of the collapse, from political apathy to the abusive control the largest shareholders had on the three largest banks. The report was an important step for Iceland in working itself out of the crisis but time has made it no less important: it is there as a reference in order to keep in mind what really happened so the time and selective memory cannot alter the facts. – Surely the kind of work sorely needed in Greece (and in all other crisis-hit countries).

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

August 18th, 2017 at 9:46 am

Posted in Uncategorised

No end to the Greek government’s relentless persecution of ELSTAT staff

with one comment

In spite of earlier promises to the Eurogroup the Greek government continues to persecute former head of ELSTAT Andreas Georgiou and two of his former senior staff. As long as the never-ending prosecutions continue the Greek government cannot claim it is seriously committed to turn the country around. By continuing these persecutions the Greek government is clinging to the story that the fraudulent statistics from around 2000 to 2009 are the correct ones, thereby in effect presenting the 2010 revisions as criminal misreporting. Thus, the Eurogroup and other international partners should refuse to cooperate with the Greek government as long as these trials continue.

In spite of earlier acquittals time and again, Greek authorities keep finding new ways to prosecute the former head of ELSTAT. The latest development happened last week, July 18 and 19. As at the trial in May, there was a shouting and insulting mob of around thirty people present in court at the trial on July 18 when Georgiou was being tried for alleged violation of duty. The mob was clearly cheering on the accusation witnesses in a disturbing way; again, something that would be unthinkable in any civilised country.

On July 19, the Chief Prosecutor of the Greek Supreme Court proposed yet again to annul the acquittal of Georgiou and two senior ELSTAT staff for allegedly intentionally inflating the 2009 government deficit and causing Greece a damage of €171bn.

Mob trial

After being unanimously found innocent of charges of violation of duty in December last year by a panel of three judges, as the trial prosecutor had recommended, this acquittal was annulled by another prosecutor. This is how this farce and mockery of justice has been kept going: acquittals are annulled and on goes the persecution.

This trial will now continue on 31 July when judgement is also expected – and it can be fully expected that Georgiou will be found guilty.

This report from Pastras Times gives an idea of the atmosphere at the trial: The professor [Z. Georganda] argued that from the data she has at her disposal, she considers that the 2009 government deficit was around 4 to 5% [of GDP] – a statement, which ignited the reaction of the audience that began applauding and shouting: “Traitors” “Hang them on Syntagma square”… The witness continued her point arguing that Greece had one of the lowest deficits “but we could and we were paying our debts because there was economic activity. Georgiou led the country to prolonged recession.” Ms. Georganda said characteristically, causing the audience to explode anew.

A pattern over six years: acquittals followed by repeated prosecution

As everyone who knows the story of the discoveries made in 2009 and 2010 of the Greek state statistics Georganda’s arguments are a total travesty of the facts, a story earlier recounted on Icelog (here the long story of the fraudulent stats and the revisions in 2010; here some blogs on the course of this horrendous saga).

July 19 was the deadline for the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Xeni Demetriou to make a proposal for annulment of the decision of the Appeals Court Council to acquit Georgiou and two former senior ELSTAT staff of the charge of making false statements about the 2009 government deficit and causing Greece a damage of €171bn. Demitrou opted to propose to annul the acquittal decision.

The Criminal Section of the Supreme Court will now consider her proposal for the annulment of the acquittal. If the latter agrees with the proposal of the Chief Prosecutor of Greece, the case will be re-examined by the Appeals Court Council. If the Appeals Court Council, under a new composition, then decides to not acquit Georgiou and his colleagues, the three will be subjected to full a trial by the Appeals Court. If convicted they face a sentence of up to life in prison.

This would then be yet another round of the same case: in September 2015, the same Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, then a Deputy Prosecutor, proposed the annulment of the then existing acquittal decision of the Appeals Court Council. In August 2016, the Criminal Section of the Supreme Court agreed to this proposal, which is why the Appeals Court Council re-considered the case.

And so it goes in circles, seemingly until the legal process gets to the “right result” – trial and conviction.

Can the three ELSTAT staff get a fair trial?

Given the fact that the same case goes in circles – with one part of the system agreeing to acquittals, which then are thrown out, in the same case – it can only be concluded that Andreas Georgiou and his two ELSTAT colleagues are indeed being persecuted for fulfilling the standard of EU law, as of course required by Eurostat and other international organisations.

As this saga has been on-going for six years it seems that the three simply cannot get a fair hearing in Greece. This raises serious questions about the rule of law in Greece and the state of human rights there.

At the same time the last chapter in this six-year saga took place now in July, €7.7bn of EU taxpayer funds, a tranche of EU and IMF funds for Greece, was paid out. This, inter alia on the basis of the statistics revised in 2010, for which the Greek state keeps prosecuting the ELSTAT statisticians thereby de facto claiming these statistics were the product of criminal misreporting.

Tsakalotos breaks his promise

As reported earlier on Icelog the Eurogroup has clearly noticed the ELSTAT case: at the Eurogroup meeting of 22 May ECB governor Mario Draghi raised the matter, saying 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 announced that “On ELSTAT, we are happy for this to become a key deliverable before July.”

In an apparent attempt to appease the Eurogroup, it was announced this week that ELSTAT will pay legal costs for the former ELSTAT employees facing trial. However, the legal provision proposed by the government is wholly inadequate and may actually do more harm than good to Georgiou and his colleagues.

For example, it says that these official statisticians will have to return any funds they get if they are convicted. This is legislating perverse incentives. It is like saying: Convict them otherwise we will have to pay them.

The proposed legislation also puts a very low limit on the amounts that would be covered. In addition, it would not cover costs of legal counsel, costs of interpretation of foreign witnesses, nor would it cover the cost of travel and accommodation of these witnesses when they come to Greece abroad to be defence witnesses for Georgiou. There also seems to be a labyrinthine process for accessing the funds making it unlikely the accused will ever see any reimbursement of cost.

It is thus quite clear from events this week that not only has Tsakalotos broken the promise he gave to Draghi and the Eurogroup in May – he clearly has no intention of keeping it. The question is how long the Eurogroup will tolerate broken promises and the fact that by prosecuting the ELSTAT staff the Greek government does indeed keep portraying the revised statistics as criminal misreporting.

 
Screenshot 2017-07-24 21.15.44According the Kathimerini‘s cartoonist, the ELSTAT saga is a simple one: New Democracy PM 2004 to 2009 Kostas Karamanlis is unwilling to let go of the persecution – “You thought you would get away? Where do you think you are going, eh Georgiou?”

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

July 24th, 2017 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

Greece – still failing the ELSTAT test

make a comment

Greek authorities have not yet dropped the wholly unfounded criminal cases against former head of  ELSTAT Andreas Georgiou. As expressed earlier on Icelog, the ELSTAT saga is a test if Greece is beholden to a corrupt past or trying to amend its ways. So far, no amendment. And interestingly, Greece is again stalling in terms of improving the economy and disbursement of €7bn from the Eurozone are being withheld.

The case of Georgiou and two ELSTAT colleagues was again up in court in Athens on Friday, Again acquitted but in this saga, where everything  goes in circles and nothing is brought to an end, it is far from certain if this really is the end. There is, yet again the distinct possibility that the Chief Prosecutor of  the Supreme Court will again reverse the acquittal, as in September 2015.

Another part of this case – for some reason it has been split up and the two cases are tried separately – came up this Monday, 29 May.

Also a new criminal investigation about exactly the same issue, ordered last September by the same Chief Prosecutor, could theoretically continue and keep the case going for years to come.

Leaked minutes from the Eurogroup meeting 22 May shows that ECB governor Mario Draghi brought the ELSTAT case up right 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.”

The Eurogroup has clearly noticed the ELSTAT case. It remains to be seen if Tsakalotos does indeed deliver before July. I’m told that there is a real opposition in some quarters to give earlier ELSTAT president indemnity against cost. Unless he and his staff is included this action does not have the intended effect. Hopefully, Draghi and others in the Eurogroup will not lose sight of this issue.

This week, the Georgiou case was brought up in a letter sent to the Financial Times, published in the print version 30 May, see below, signed by Michel Camdessus former Managing Director of  the IMF and others. The link the writers make, between the work in the Eurogroup and the importance of statistics is an appropriate one. Statistics are vital in any modern society, which makes it so grossly offensive to prosecute statisticians for doing their work. As pointed out earlier on Icelog, Georgiou and his staff enjoy a wide support among statisticians and others who care about good governance and justice.

Sir, As you reported on May 22 (FT.com), the eurogroup failed to complete the review of the economic programme with Greece and enable the disbursement of €7bn of Eurozone member taxpayer money to Greece. Negotiations are continuing. Meanwhile, on May 29, Andreas Georgiou again went on trial for violation of duty while he was president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (Elstat) from August 2010 to August 2015 (The Big Read, December 30, 2016).

These two strands should be linked, but to date have not been. The eurogroup and associated European organizations (the European Stability Mechanism, the European Commission and the European Central Bank) have not established the appropriate linkage.

Mr Georgiou and senior colleagues of his at Elstat are being prosecuted for doing their job in producing honest statistics about Greece’s fiscal condition for 2009, before the start of the first Greek programme, and during the first five years of programmes. Their work is central to the Greek economic reform efforts. It was based on European standards for statistical data quality. Successive Greek governments have committed to comply with those standards and to defend the professional independence of Elstat. The current government and several previous governments have failed to live up to these commitments.

We the undersigned call on the European authorities not to complete the programme review with Greece until and unless the Greek government declares publicly in writing that the statistics compiled by Mr Georgiou and his colleagues at Elstat were accurate and that they were produced and disseminated using appropriate processes and procedures based on European standards.

Michel Camdessus Paris, France; José Manuel Campa Madrid, Spain; Edwin M. Truman Washington, DC, US; Gertrude Trumpel-Gugerell Vienna, Austria; Nicolas Véron Washington, DC, US and Paris, France; Geoffrey Woglom Amherst, MA, US; Edmond Alphandéry Paris, France; Paul Armington Washington, DC, US; Ruthanne Deutsch Washington, DC, US; Robert D Kyle Washington, DC, US; Barry D Nussbaum Annandale, VA, US; Christopher Smart Boston, MA, US; Peter H. Sturm Washington, DC, US; Stephanie Tsantes Lewes, DE, US; Ronald L. Wasserstein Springfield, VA, US; Charles Wyplosz Geneva, Switzerland; Jeromin Zettlemeyer Washington, DC, US

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

May 31st, 2017 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

How is this possible, Greece?

with 4 comments

The Greek ELSTAT saga has taken yet another turn, which should be a cause for grave concern in any European country: a unanimous acquittal by three judges of the Greek Appeals Court in the case of former head of ELSTAT Andreas Georgiou has been annulled. This was announced Sunday December 18 – the case  was up in court December 6 – but no documents have been published so far, another worrying aspect.

The acquittal was the fourth attempt to acquit Gergiou – and this is now the fourth attempt to  thwart the course of Greek justice and revive the unfounded charges against him. The intriguing thing to note here is that the acquittal was annulled by a prosecutor at the First Instance Court, who in September brought a whole new case regarding the debt and deficit statistics from 2010 and ELSTAT staff role here, this time not only accusing ELSTAT staff of wrongdoing but also staff from Eurostat and the IMF; a case still versing in the Greek justice system.

All of this rotates around the fact that ELSTAT, and now Eurostat and IMF staff, is being prosecuted for producing correct statistics after more than a decade of fraudulent  reporting by Greek authorities.

It beggars belief that the justice system in Greece seems to be wholly under the power of political forces who try as best they can to avoid owning up to earlier misdeeds. In spite of acquittals, those who corrected the fraudulent statistics are being prosecuted relentlessly while nothing is done to explain what  went on during the time of the fraudulent reporting. It should also be noted that in order to stop the ELSTAT prosecutions completely, four other cases related to this one, need to be stopped.

The ELSTAT staff is here reliving the horrors of the Lernaen Hydra in Greek mythology. Georgiou and his colleagues have had international support but that doesn’t deter Greek authorities from something that certainly looks like a total abuse of justice. How is it possible to time and again take up a case where those charged have already been acquitted?

Icelog has followed the ELSTAT saga, see here for earlier blogs, explaining the facts of this sad saga.

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

December 19th, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

The ELSTAT saga: the latest

make a comment

Former head of ELSTAT, the Greek statistical authority, Andreas Georgiou has been acquitted in the case where he was charged with misdemeanour. Three foreign statisticians came to Athens to bear witness in the case, testifying to Georgiou’s positive work on rectifying the problems of earlier false statistics.

The irony is that the Greek government is silently accepting that civil servants who fixed the problem of a decade or fraudulent statistics are being prosecuted, not those who committed the fraud for years.

But as lister earlier on Icelog this is only one of four cases Georgiou is fighting in Greece. The other cases against Georgiou are still lingering in Greek courts. In the largest case against himm where he is charged with treason for in fact correctly reporting correct statistics, the examining judge has now proposed that the case be dismissed. Stunningly, this is the fourth time a judge proposes to have the case dropped but so far it’s always risen again in a new guise.

Here is Kathimerini report on the latest trial and its outcome.

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

December 7th, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

The ELSTAT saga: ongoing vendetta against civil servants who saved Greek statistics

with one comment

There is no end in sight of the ELSTAT saga of political vendetta against the ex ELSTAT director Andreas Georgiou who oversaw the correction of Greek statistics  2010 to 2015. Yes, the Prosecutor of the Appeals Court has recommended to throw the case of Georgiou and his colleagues out, not once but three times, only to resurface again. In addition, the case has transformed into several case all migrating through the Greek judicial system. I’ve earlier claimed that the ELSTAT case is a test of Greek political willingness to own up to the past and move on. The steadfast will to prosecute civil servants for doing their job exposes the damaging corrupt political forces still at large in Greece, a very worrying signal for the European Union and the International Monetary Fund – but most of all worrying for Greece.

If anyone thought that the long-running saga of prosecutions against ex head of ELSTAT Andreas Georgiou was over, just because so little is now heard of it, then pay attention: the case is still ongoing, there is an upcoming decision in the Appeals Court that could potentially send Georgiou to trial with the possibility of a life sentence for him. In addition, there are side stories here, other ongoing investigations and prosecutions.

The 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 much taken for granted in Greece that little or no attention is paid to the fundamental issue:

How is it possible that the man who as Head of ELSTAT from August 2010 until August 2015, putting in place procedures for correct reporting of statistics following the exposure of fraudulent statistics for around a decade, is being prosecuted and not the people who for years provided false and fraudulent statistics to Greece, European authorities and the world?

This case of a Hydra with many heads is rearing one of these heads next on 6 December when Georgiou is to face charges of violation of duty in producing the correct 2009 government deficit statistics. On important aspect is this: the charges imply that the Greek government isn’t accepting the correct figures on which the current bailout program and debt relief is based on.

European and international organisations have supported Georgiou’s point of view, the last being a letter from the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth (IARIW), to prime minister Alexis Tsipras now in November. However, the support from abroad does not seem to have had any effect on the prosecutions against Georgiou in Greece. As can be seen from the overview below of how the cases have sprawled in various directions there really is no end in sight. A worrying trend in a European democracy, the country that calls itself the cradle of Western democracy.

To Icelog, Georgiou says: “The numerous prosecutions and investigations against me and others that have been going on for years – as well as the persistence of political attacks and the absence of support by consecutive governments – have created disincentives for official statisticians in Greece to produce credible statistics. As a result, we cannot rule out the prospect that the problem with Greece’s European statistics will re-emerge. The damage already caused concerns not only official statistics in Greece, but more widely in the EU and around the world, and will take time and effort to reverse.

Charges three times thrown out resurface in wider charges

The original criminal case concerned criminally inflating the 2009 deficit causing damages to Greece in the order of €171bn or €210bn (depending on how it was calculated on different occasions by his detractors). For three consecutive years – in 2013, 2014 and 2015 – investigating judges and prosecutors proposed to drop the case only to see the charges resurfacing again each and every time. In 2016, the Prosecutor of the Appeals Court assigned to the case yet again proposed that the case be dropped. A decision is pending at the Council of the Appeals Court.

The same issue of the 2009 deficit did indeed resurface in the form a separate, brand new case on 1 September this year, now not only alleging criminal actions by Georgiou and ELSTAT staff but by the EU Commission and the IMF. A separate criminal investigation has begun and is running parallel to the over five year old case above. On the losing end here are not only the individuals hit by these charges but also public statistics, Greece, EU and international partners.

A worrying disincentive to service truthful information

Now, on 6 December, Georgiou is facing a trial for violation of duty, exactly the violations that various prosecutors and investigating judges had, in 2013, 2014 and 2015, proposed to drop. However, the Appeals Court decided in 2015 to refer the case to an open trial. In Greece, this trial is being presented as doing justice for Greece, implying that earlier cases may have been dropped due to European pressure.

Again, this clearly shows that there are political forces in Greece refusing to shoulder any responsibility for fraudulent statistics and a huge cover up of the dismal governance in Greece up to the surfacing crisis in 2009.

If convicted for violation of duty, Georgiou faces a possible conviction of two years in prison. Greek statistics face an uncertain future: a trial against the people who fixed the problem of Greek statistics is hardly a great incentive to Greek civil servants to service truthful information instead of untruthful politicians.

Twelve months for “criminal slander”: told the truth but should have kept quiet

In June, Georgiou was tried for criminal slander for defending the 2009 deficit statistics, the very numbers ELSTAT produced as required by the European Statistics Code of Practice. The Court Prosecutor recommended to the Court that the case be dropped and that Georgiou be acquitted. But the Court ruled in the end that although it believed Georgiou to have told the truth he should still not have said the things he said and sentenced him to twelve months in prison.

The appeal of this conviction was due to be heard in October in the Appeals Court. However, the plaintiff – actually the former director of national accounts at the National Statistics Office (later ELSTAT) in 2006 to 2010, i.e. during the fraudulent reporting – succeeded in having the appeal trial postponed. It’s now due in 16 January 2017, possibly a tactical move to influence two other ongoing cases involving Georgiou, the above-mentioned criminal case and a civil case.

The civil case is related to the criminal slander case. Decision is due in the coming weeks and could land Georgiou with a crippling fine of tens of thousands of euro.

Protecting the perpetrator of a crime, not the victim

As reported last summer in my detailed article of the ELSTAT saga, ELSTAT’s former vice president Nikos Logothetis was found by the police to have repeatedly hacked into Georgiou’s ELSTAT email account. This started already on Georgiou’s first day as president of ELSTAT, in August 2010, before he had even started to look at the thorny issue of the 2009 deficit, and continued until the hacking was exposed late October 2010.

Police investigations showed who was responsible for the criminal action of hacking Georgiou’s account – Logothetis was actually logged into the account as the police came unannounced to his home.

Georgiou was informed that Logothetis would be prosecuted for this and that following the criminal case he could then bring a civil case against Logothetis. However, in early July this year Logothetis was acquitted of violating Georgiou’s email account in a felony case. The Court also decided Logothetis could not be retried for the felony charge due to the time passed since the hacking.

According to the ruling it was not disputed that Logothetis had indeed accessed Georgiou’s account. However, the action was deemed not to have been carried out because of monetary gains or to hurt Georgiou but only because Logothetis “wanted to understand Georgiou’s illegal actions and to legally defend the legitimate interests of ELSTAT and consequently of the Greek state.”

Quite remarkably, the felony case was allowed to wait for five years before it was considered by the Appeals Court, thus triggering the statute of limitations. In addition, somehow Georgiou received no notice of the decision of the Appeals Court on the Logothetis felony case acquittal and thus had no chance to take legal action to potentially reverse the ruling within the allowed one month period.

Furthermore, the Court hadn’t taken any note of the fact that Logothetis actually hacked the account before Georgiou even looked at the 2009 deficit numbers nor did it figure in the case that Logothetis had continuously slandered and attacked Georgiou during his five years in office, even calling for the hanging of Georgiou in a published interview.

Another case against Logothetis, also for the hacking but as a misdemeanor and not a felony, was due to go to trial now in November but has been postponed in accordance with Logothetis’ wishes. It’s now been set for February 2017.

The ELSTAT case in the European Parliament:

On 22 November the ongoing political pressure on Greek statistics and Georgiou and his colleagues was taken up in a hearing at the Committee on Economic and Financial Affairs of the European Parliament. Both Georgiou and Walter Rademacher president of Eurostat participated, presented their views and were questioned by MEPs.

Rademacher gave an overview of the problems with Greek statistics and emphasised the need to close with the past, stop going after ELSTAT staff and to recognise what had been wrong (see video; Rademacher at 2:20-12:15). Rademacher paid tribute to Georgiou and the ELSTAT staff in modernising the organisations, bringing the governance to the proper standard and thus re-establishing trust in Greek statistics, a much needed contribution.

Rademacher pointed out that the serious misreporting didn’t cause the crisis in 2009 but was a “blatant symptom of very serious flaws” within the Greek statistics administration “at that time.” He also underlined the immense effort taken by various organisations to aid and support ELSTAT in improving its work, inter alia hundred Eurostat missions since 2010 to the present day, around one a month, to ELSTAT as well as to Eurostat in-house assistance, to the cost of around €1m in addition to technical assistance from the IMF and other EU National Statistical Institutes – no other country has needed anything like this.

In his presentation, Georgiou (12:26-20:12) emphasised the enormous disincentive for official statistics in Greece his case has been.

These and other cases and investigations send a strong signal to today’s guardians of honest, transparent statistics in Greece: you do so at your own risk. The point cannot be lost on them that compiling reliable statistics according to EU law and statistical principles can endanger their personal well-being.

The ELSTAT case: a scary disincentive for Greek civil servants

Georgiou had only been in office for around thirteen months when political forces in Greece openly started questioning in parliament his professional integrity. That was also the time when allegation emerged of him committing treason in reporting the correct figures.

Now, more than five years later, the case is still going on in various ways. Quite remarkably, Georgiou has not had any support from the Tsipras government. Given how the ELSTAT case has progressed, there are clearly forces both in the government and in the main opposition party who have a personal and political interest in hiding the truth on how the fraudulent reporting was kept going for around a decade, until 2009 and who find a convenient scapegoat in Georgiou and his staff.

Given the strong Greek political forces at large here the only way to stop the scapegoating seems to be that the donor countries and institutions show Greece that it can’t be helped until it helps itself. Until it helps itself by putting an end to prosecuting civil servants who fixed a serious problem that severely undermined the trust in the Greek government. As it stands, there is no incentive for Greek civil servants to withstand political pressure for corrupt action.

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

December 2nd, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

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

with 5 comments

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

Old and new powers in Greece – and the ELSTAT case

with one comment

The re-awoken charges against ex-ELSTAT head Andreas Georgiou and two of his colleagues are attracting attention in the international media. Last, the Financial Times takes the case up on its front page today. According to recent report on EurActiv it also seems that powers in Brussel are rightly getting increasingly worried about the procedures in Greece against Georgiou.

After a trip to Athens last year I wrote about the case in detail on Icelog. When the case resurfaced now in summer I pointed out that Greek authorities were punishing the messenger instead of those who really falsified Greek statistics for roughly a decade.

The reason I find the ELSTAT case so interesting and important is that in my view it’s a test case for the willingness of the Greek political class to face the misdeeds of the past, the corruption and all the things that hinder prosperity in Greece. In addition, a country without reliable statistics can’t really claim to be a modern and accountable country.

As it is now, Greece is heading towards a political trial where those who fixed the fraud are being hounded and punished, not the perpetrators. As long as the charges against Georgiou and his colleagues are upheld it is clear that the forces who want to keep Greece as it was – weakened by corruption and unhealthy politics – are still ruling. That isn’t only worrying for Greece but for Europe as a whole.

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

August 15th, 2016 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

Greek authorities punish the messenger, not the culprits of fraud

with one comment

In Greece, authorities go after those who tried to sort out the mess of the Greek economy, not those who created it. That’s one conclusion to be drawn for charges, yet again, brought against Andreas Georgiou former head of ELSTAT, the Greek statistics bureau. It should be scary for Greeks and European institutions to see the relentless persecutions of a civil servant who did his job.

Since he was appointed head of ELSTAT in summer of 2010, well after it was clear that the Greek statistics were unreliable, Andreas Georgiou has had to fight forces in Greece who simply refuse to let go of him and his colleagues, a story carefully recounted on Icelog a year ago, with the precise data of statistics and the development of the ELSTAT saga. Time and again, the case against Georgiou has been dropped but always brought up again.

New criminal charges now against Georgiou do not only threaten him with a prison sentence but also threaten to awaken earlier dropped charges against him and two of his colleagues.

And those who for years falsified statistics? No, not one hair on their head has been ruffled, no investigations set up as to how it was possible that wrong and falsified statistics were reported to Greeks themselves and to international bodies such as Eurostat, the European statistical bureau, more or less from 2000 until 2009.

In Game Over, the Inside Story of the Greek Crisis, George Papaconstantinou minister of finance during the fateful time from the October 2009 election until June 2011 recounts thoroughly how the falsified statistics came up as soon as the PASOK government came to power.

Already during his first days in Office, Papaconstantinou heard from various institutions that inter alia the much watched budget deficit was well beyond what the Greek authorities had reported to Eurostat two days before the October 2009 election. “In short, they had lied,” Papaconstantinou concludes in his book. What ensued was a discovery of fraudulent statistics going back years.

No one could precisely show Papaconstantinou how the reported figure was found. One of his first acts in office was to call the head of the national statistics, professor Emmanouil Kontopyrakis to his office. The professor had no idea how the deficit figure was computed but to him it did seem like a “reasonable projection” – the minister asked him to resign.

As Papaconstantinou carefully recounts much of the mistrust of his European colleagues directed at Greece was based on the fact that there wasn’t even precise statistics and figures to work with to begin with.

When Andreas Georgiou took over as head of ELSTAT in August the much-debated deficit figures, both forecasted and the real figures, had been corrected, of course greatly increasing the deficit, under the auspice of Eurostat.

As carefully detailed in my ELSTAT saga last year, the numbers kept going upwards. The 2009 deficit first forecasted 3.7% in early October was by April 2010 estimated by Eurostat to be an actual deficit of 13.6% but Eurostat was still not sure it couldn’t rise; by late 2010 Georgiou and his team found it to be 15.4%.

In his book, Papaconstantinou writes that Georgiou proved to be the right man for the job, “helping to make Greek statistics credible. I was less lucky with of the other people appointed to the ELSTAT board.” In a police investigation one board member was later discovered to have hacked Georgiou’s email account. Another member accused Georgiou of inflating the deficit figure, causing the bailout, a “totally absurd” accusation according to Papaconstantinou.

The memorandum on the Greek rescue packet was finalised May 2 2010. Yet, Georgiou, who only took over in August 2010, is continuously persecuted for having influenced the bailout.

Considering how poisonous the unreliable data proved to be in the discussions up to the May 2010 memorandum it would have been greater reason to thank Georgiou and his team for delivering sound statistical data.

But that is not what happened and things didn’t stop there. The opposition lapped up the accusations. “Soon the justice system was involved. Prosecutors brought criminal charges against Georgiou for actions having caused billions of damage to Greece. We were suddenly in a parallel universe; rather than bringing to task those who had lied about the true size of the deficit, we were accused for having told the truth!”

No matter though Georgiou’s case has been thrown out several times the dark forces in Greek politics always find a way of bringing it back. And that has now happened again, the case is being brought back in a new guise (see here and here). It seems that Europe risks having a political prisoner within its boundaries, imprisoned for doing his job.

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

August 3rd, 2016 at 4:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorised

Greek politics and poisonous statistics – an on-going saga

with 9 comments

Why the Troika and the EU member states find it so difficult to trust Greece

The word “trust” has been mentioned time and again in reports on the tortuous negotiations on Greece. One reason is the persistent deceit in reporting on debt and deficit statistics, including lying about an off market swap with Goldman Sachs: not a one-off deceit but a political interference through concerted action among several public institutions for more then ten years.

As late as in the July 12 Euro Summit statement “safeguarding of the full legal independence of ELSTAT” was stated as a required measure. Worryingly, Andreas Georgiou president of ELSTAT from 2010, the man who set the statistics straight, and some of his staff, have been hounded by political forces, also Syriza. Further, a Greek parliamentary investigation aims at showing that foreigners are to blame for the odious debt, which should not be paid while there is no effort to clarify a decade of falsifying statistics.

In Iceland there were also voices blaming its collapse on foreigners but the report of the Special Investigation Committee silenced these voices. – As long as powerful parts of the Greek political class are unwilling to admit to past failures it might prove difficult to solve its results: the excessive debt and deficit.

“This is all the fault of foreigners!” In Iceland, this was a common first reaction among some politicians and political forces following the collapse of the three largest Icelandic banks in October 2008. Allegedly, foreign powers were jealous or even scared of the success of the Icelandic banks abroad or aimed at taking over Icelandic energy sources. In April 2010 the publication of a report by the Special Investigation Committee, SIC, effectively silenced these voices. It documented that the causes were domestic: failed policies, lax financial supervision, fawning faith in the fast-growing banking system and thoroughly reckless, and at times criminal, banking.

As the crisis struck, Iceland’s public debt was about 30% of GDP and budget surplus. Though reluctant to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund, IMF, the Icelandic government did so in the weeks following the collapse. An IMF crisis loan of $2.1bn eased the adjustment from boom to bust. Already by the summer of 2011 Iceland was back to growth and by August 2011 it completed the IMF programme, executed by a left government in power from early 2009 until spring 2013. Good implementation and Iceland’s ownership of the programme explains the success. For Ireland it was the same: it entered the crisis with strong public finances and ended a harsh Troika programme late 2013; its growth in 2014 was 4.8%.

For Greece it was a different story: high budget deficit and high public debt were chronic. From 1995 to 2014 it had an average budget deficit of -7%. Already in 1996, government debt was above 100% of GDP, hovering there until the debt started climbing worryingly in the period 2008 to 2009 – far from the prescribed Maastricht euro criteria of budget deficit not exceeding 3% and public debt no higher than 60% of GDP. Both Greek figures had however one striking exception: they dived miraculously low, below their less glorious averages in time for joining the euro. Yet, only the deficit number ever went below the required Maastricht criteria, which enabled Greece to join the euro in 2001.

Greece had an extra problem not found in Iceland, Ireland or any other crisis-hit EEA countries: in addition to dismal public finances for decades there is the even more horrifying saga of deliberate hiding and falsifying economic realities by misreporting Excessive Deficit Procedure, EDP and hide debt and deficit with off market swaps.*

This is not a saga of just fiddling the figures once to get into the euro but a deceit stretching over more than ten years involving not only the Greek statistical authorities but the Greek Ministry of Finance, MoF, the Greek Accounting Office, GAO and other important institutions involved in the compilation of EDP deficit and debt statistics – in short, the whole political power base of Greece’s public economy.

Already in 2002 Eurostat discovered that the debt and deficit dip around the euro entry was no miracle but manipulation: Greek authorities simply reported wrong numbers. In 2004, Eurostat’s Report on the revision of the Greek government deficit and debt figures showed that this had been on-going between 1997 to 2003. Consequently, the Greek statistical authorities, the then National Statistical Service of Greece, NSSG (from which ELSTAT was created in mid-2010) were forced to revise its data for the years 2000 to 2003 upward, above the criteria set for Greece’s entry in the Eurozone. These issues were unique to Greece: “Revisions in statistics, and in particular in government deficit data, are not unusual… However, the recent revision of the Greek budgetary data is exceptional.”

The Eurostat 2004 report was followed by intense and unprecedented scrutiny with Eurostat using all its power to control and make sure the Greek stats were correct. Yet, NSSG did not learn its lessons, or rather, the political interference was relentless.

In autumn 2009 the ECOFIN Council requested a new report, this time from the EU Commission, EC, due to “renewed problems in the Greek fiscal statistics” after the “reliability of Greek government deficit and debt statistics (has) been the subject of continuous and unique attention for several years.

The EC report on Greek Government Deficit and Debt Statistics, published in January 2010 showed that Greek numbers on debt and deficit were still wrong: deficit forecasts changed drastically from the March to the September reporting more than once and once the real statistics were available the numbers were still higher. Again, such a revision was rare in EU member states “but have taken place for Greece on several occasions.”

As earlier, the reason for the faulty data was methodological shortcomings, not only at the NSSG but also at the GAO and the MoF responsible for providing data to NSSG and, even more grave, political interference and “deliberate misreporting,” where the NSSG, GAO, MoF and other institutions involved in the reporting, all played their part.

The Goldman Sachs, GS, off market swap story was one chapter in the faulty data saga. In 2008, when Eurostat made enquiries in all member states on off market swaps, Greek authorities informed Eurostat promptly that the Greek state had engaged in nothing of the sort. This 2008 statement turned out to be a blatant lie when Eurostat investigated the matter, as shown in a Eurostat report in November 2010. The swap story is a parallel to the Greek data deceit in the sense that it was not a single event but a deceit running for years, involving several Greek authorities.

Needless to say, fiddling the numbers did not eradicate the debt and deficit problem. The EC report was published as Greece was losing access to markets. Negotiations on a bailout were complicated by unreliable information on Greek public finances. On May 2, 2010, as the first Greek Memorandum of Understanding was signed, with a €110bn loan – €80bn from European institutions and €30bn from the IMF – it was clear that the crucial figures of debt and deficit might still go up.

Following these major failures at the NSSG its head had resigned in 2009. At the GAO and the MoF ministers, vice ministers and general secretaries changed with the new Papandreou government but the ranks below remained unchanged, as did the mentality. With changes in the statistics law in summer 2010 ELSTAT replaced NSSG. A new board was put in place and also a new head: Andreas Georgiou, earlier at the IMF, returned home to take over at ELSTAT. This ended the battle to produce correct statistics: since August 2010, neither Eurostat nor other European authorities have questioned Greek national statistics.

It was however the beginning of an on-going horror story for Georgiou and some of his staff who have been hounded since ELSTAT began reporting correct statistics in accordance with European standards: three times, competent judiciary officials have recommended to have the criminal case launched against them put to file, i.e. to drop the case. Only recently, a council of appeals court judges have let go of charges against the three for having caused the state a loss of €171bn, which would have meant a prison sentence for life. However, charges against Georgiou for violation of duty are still being upheld; should he be found guilty he will not be able to hold a public post again.

There are now two committees, set up by the Greek parliament, investigating the past. One is the Parliamentary Truth about the Debt Committee. Set up in April 2015, with members chosen by the Syriza president of the Greek parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou, it concluded in its preliminary report, presented June 17, that Greece neither can nor should pay its debt to the Troika because that debt is “is illegal, illegitimate, and odious.” The other, a Parliamentary Investigative Committee made up of members of parliament and normally referred to as the Investigative Committee about the Memoranda, is scrutinising how Greece got into the two Memoranda of Understanding with international partners, in 2010 and 2012, in the context of adjustment programs. – Both committees have repeated the claims against Georgiou and the two ELSTAT managers.

In spite of over a decade long saga of false statistics and political interference there has been no attempt so far to set up an independent committee to tell the whole Greek debt saga, from the 1990s to the present day, manipulated statistics, deceitful swaps, political interference, warts and all.

2004: the first Greek crisis … of unreliable statistics

The first Greek crisis did not attract much attention although it was indirectly a crisis of deficit and debt – it was a crisis caused by faulty statistics, unearthed by Eurostat already in 2002. After going through the deficit and debt figures reported by Greece the 2004 Eurostat’s Report on the revision of the Greek government deficit and debt figures rejected figures put forward by the NSSG in March 2004. After revision the numbers for the previous years looked drastically different – the budget deficit, which should have been within 3%, moved shockingly:

 

2000 2001 2002 2003
DEFICIT % GDP % GDP % GDP % of GDP
March 2004 -2.0 -1.4 -1.4 -1.7
September2004 -4.1 -3.7 -3.7 -4.6
DEBT
March 2004 106.1 106.6 104.6 102.6
September 2004
114.0 114.7 112.5 109.9

Report on the revision of the Greek government deficit and debt figures

The institutions responsible for reporting on the debt and deficit figures were NSSG, the MoF through the GAO as well as MoF’s Single Payment Authority and Bank of Greece. Specifically, NSSG and the MoF were responsible for the deficit reporting; the MoF was fully responsible for the debt figures.

The Eurostat drew various lessons from the first Greek crisis. Legislative changes were made to eradicate the earlier problems – not an entirely successful exercise as could be seen when the same problems re-surfaced. But the most important result of the 2004 crisis was a set of statistical principles known as the European Statistics Code of Practice, adopted in February 2005, revised in September 2011, following the next Greek crisis of statistical data. Unfortunately, NSSG drew no such lessons.

2009: the second Greek crisis … of unreliable statistics

Following the 2004 report Eurostat had NSSG in what can best be described as a wholly exceptional and intensive occupational therapy: from the ten EDP notifications 2005 to 2009 Eurostat had reservations to five of them, far more than any other country received. No country but Greece got “methodological visits” from Eurostat. The Greek notifications, which passed, did so only because Eurostat had corrected them during the notification period, always increasing the deficit from the numbers reported by Greek authorities.

But in spite of Eurostat’s efforts the pupil was unwilling to learn and in 2009 there was a second crisis of statistics: things had not improved as was bluntly stated in a 30-page report on Greek Government Deficit and Debt Statistics from the EC in January 2010. In addition: what had been going on at Greek authorities had no parallel in any other EU country.

This second crisis of Greek statistics in 2009 was in the first instance not set off by a real figure but by the dramatic revisions of the deficit forecast for 2009. As in 2004, this new crisis led to major revisions of earlier forecast: the April forecast was revised twice in October. What happened between spring and October was that George Papandreou and the PASOK ousted New Democracy and prime minister Kostas Karamanlis from power; the new government was now beating drums over much worse state of affairs than earlier data and forecast showed.

After first reporting on October 2 2009 there came another set of numbers from NSSG on October 21, revising earlier reported deficit for 2008 from 5% of GDP to 7.7% – and the forecasted deficit ratio for 2009 of 3.7% was revised to 12.5% (as explained in footnote, numbers for current year are a forecast, whereas numbers for earlier years should be actual data).

And this was not all: in early 2010, Eurostat was still not convinced about the actual EDP data from the years 2005 to 2008. The earlier 2009 deficit forecast of 12.5% had risen to an actual deficit of 13.6% by April 2010 to finally land on 15.4% in late 2010.

The EC report detected common features with events in 2004 and 2009: a change of government – in March 2004, Kostas Karamanlis and New Democracy came to power, ending eleven years of PASOK rule and as mentioned above George Papandreou and PASOK won back power in October 2009.

In both cases “substantial revisions took place revealing a practice of widespread misreporting, in an environment in which checks and balances appear absent, information opaque and distorted, and institutions weak and poorly coordinated. The frequent missions conducted by Eurostat in the interval between these episodes, the high number of methodological visits, the numerous reservations to the notifications of the Greek authorities, on top of the non-compliance with Eurostat recommendations despite assurances to the contrary, provide additional evidence that the problems are only partly of a methodological nature and would largely lie beyond the statistical sphere.

In other words, the problem was not statistics but politics. As politics is well outside its remit, Eurostat could not get to the core of the problem: “Though eventually an overall level of completion was achieved, given that Eurostat is restricted to statistical matters in its work the measures foreseen in the action plan were mainly of a methodological nature, and did not address the issues of institutional settings, accountability, responsibility and political interference.”

The political interference could i.a. be seen from the fact that reservations expressed by Eurostat between 2005 and 2008 on specific budgetary issues, which had then been clarified and corrected, resurfaced in 2009, i.e. earlier corrections were reverted and were now once more wrong.

Good faith versus fraud

The EC 2010 report identified two different but in some cases linked sets of problems. The first was due to methodological weaknesses and unsatisfactory technical procedures, both at the NSSG and the authorities that provided data to the in the NSSG, in particular the GAO and the MoF.

The second set of problems stemmed “from inappropriate governance, with poor cooperation and lack of clear responsibilities between several Greek institutions and services responsible for the EDP notifications, diffuse personal responsibilities, ambiguous empowerment of officials, absence of written instruction and documentation, which leave the quality of fiscal statistics subject to political pressures and electoral cycles. “

Eurostat’s extra scrutiny and unprecedented effort had clearly not been enough: “even this activity was unable to detect the level of (hidden) interference in the Greek EDP data. In particular, after the closure of the infringement procedure at the end of 2007, Eurostat issued a reservation on the quality of the Greek data in the April 2008 notification and validated the notifications of October 2008 and April 2009 only after it intervened before and during the notification period to correct mistakes or inappropriate recording, with the result of increasing the notified deficit in both instances. As an example, Eurostat’s methodological missions in 2008 resulted in an increase of the 2007 deficit figure notified by the Greek authorities, from 2.8% to 3.5% of GDP.

The EC 2010 report further pointed out that “on top of the serious problems observed in the functioning of other areas involved in the management of Greek public revenues and expenditures, that are not the object of this report, the current set-up does not guarantee the independence, integrity and accountability of the national statistical authorities. In particular the professional independence of the NSSG from the Ministry of Finance is not assured, which has allowed the reporting of EDP data to be influenced by factors other than the regulatory and legally binding principles for the production of high quality European statistics.

The EC report concluded that there was nothing wrong with the quality assurance system in place at Eurostat; the shortcomings were particular for Greece: “The partners in the ESS (European Statistical System) are supposed to cooperate in good faith. Deliberate misreporting or fraud is not foreseen in the regulation.

Again, the rarity of the magnitude of such revisions was underlined: “Revisions of this magnitude in the estimated past government deficit ratios have been extremely rare in other EU Member States, but have taken place for Greece on several occasions.”

The EC 2010 report spells out interplay between authorities, dictated by political needs. Against these concerted actions by Greek authorities, the efforts of European institutions were bound to be inadequate – “the situation can only be corrected by decisive action of the Greek government.

The Goldman Sachs 2001 swaps – part of the Greek statistics deceit saga

In early 2010, international media was reporting that Greece had entered a certain type of swaps – off market swaps – with Goldman Sachs in 2001 in order to bring its debt to a certain level so as to be eligble for euro membership.

Already in Council Regulation (EC) No 2223/96 swaps were classified as “financial derivatives,” with a 2001 amendment making it clear that no “payment resulting from any kind of swap arrangement is to be considered as interest and recorded under property.” However at that time off market swaps were not much noted. By the mid-2000s it became evident that the use of off market swaps could have the effect of reducing the measured debt according to the existing rules. Eurostat took this into account and issued guidelines to record off market swaps differently from regular swaps. – Further, Eurostat rules specify that when in doubt national statistical authorities should ask Eurostat.

In 2008, Eurostat asked members states to declare off market swaps if any. The prompt Greek answer was: “The State does not engage in options, forwards, futures or FOREX swaps, nor in off market swaps (swaps with non-zero market value at inception).

In its Report on the EDP Methodologial Visits to Greece in 2010, Eurostat scrutinised the 2001 “currency off-market swap agreements with Goldman Sachs, using an exchange rate different from the spot prevailing one” that the Greek Public Debt Agency, PDMA, had made with the bank. It turned out that the 2008 answer was just the opposite of what had happened: the Greek state had indeed engaged in swaps but kept it carefully hidden from the outer world, i.a. Eurostat.

After having been found out to be lying about the swaps Greek authorities were decidedly unwilling to inform Eurostat on the details. Not until after the fourth Eurostat visit, at the end of September 2010, nota bene after Georgiou took over at ELSTAT, did Eurostat feel properly informed on the Goldman Sachs swap.

The GS off market swaps were in total thirteen contracts with maturity from 2002 to 2016, later extended to 2037. As Eurostat remarked these transactions had several unusual aspects compared to normal practices. The original contracts have been revised, amended and restructured over the years, some of which have resulted in what Eurostat defines as new transactions.

The GS swaps hid a debt of $2.8bn in 2001; after later restructuring the understatement of the debt was $5.4bn. The swap transaction, never before reported as part of the public accounts, was part of the revisions in the first ELSTAT reporting after Georgiou took over. This did actually increase the deficit by a small amount for every year since 2001, as well as increasing the debt figure.

The swap story is a parallel to the Greek data deceit in the sense that it was not a single event but a deceit running for years, involving several Greek authorities. Taken together, both the swap deceit and the faulty reporting of forecasts and statistics by Greek authorities show a determined and concerted political effort to hide facts and figures, which in reality did not change when new governments came to power.

A thriller of statistical data and mysteriously acquired emails

For Greece, the economy deteriorated drastically following the financial crisis in 2008. Public debt was at 129% of GDP end of 2009. The country effectively lost market access in March 2010. With an agreement signed May 2 2010 Greece became the first Eurozone country to be bailed out. The messy statistics made the negotiations tortuous.

After the appalling failures, misrepresentations and direct manipulation of figures for political purposes, both at NSSG and other institutions involved in the collection and presentation of statistical data, things turned for the better after Andreas Georgiou took over as president of the newly established ELSTAT in August 2010. However, not everyone in the Greek political system celebrated the fact that ELSTAT was now operating strictly to ESS standards.

It is worth noting that by the time Georgiou took over most of the corrections of earlier figures had already been done under the auspice of Eurostat. There was however the last set of corrections of deficit and debt figures. As pointed out earlier, the GS off market swaps were included for the first time, changing figures for earlier years and the actual deficit figure for 2009 was yet again revised upward in the first set of data, delivered by the new President. As the EC report in January 2010 had foreseen the deficit figure was yet to rise: the April figure of 13.6% was now 15.4%.

Following the adoption of the new statistics law in March 2010, ELSTAT was now independent of the MoF although its board was politically appointed in addition to a representative from the employees’ union. This might not have been a problem if the board had understood the European Statistics Code of Practice in the same way as Georgiou.

At ELSTAT Georgiou emphasised its independence and accountability where the board should be involved only with the broader issues, not the statistical production process. Instead, the board felt, among other things, that it should vote on and approve the statistics and saw Georgiou as being manipulative, wanting to rule over the statistics. Three of the members of the new board, set up in August 2010 – ELSTAT’s vice president Nikos Logothetis, Zoe Georganda and Andreas Philippou – had applied for the position of president, which possibly did not make things easier.

The break-down of trust happened at a meeting with the presidium of the employees’ union on 21 October 2010, after Georgiou had been in office less than three months. At this meeting, the presidium showed Georgiou a document – a legal opinion from Georgiou’s lawyer with whom Georgiou had been in touch via his private email account, on issues related to the law on ELSTAT that was in the process of being changed. Georgiou realised that someone had an unauthorised access to his account. He later became aware that another member of the board, Zoe Georganda, possessed an email Georgiou had exchanged with Poul Thomsen, head of the Greek IMF mission.

Georgiou brought the case to the police who discovered that Nikos Logothetis had been entering Georgiou’s account from the first day Georgiou took up his position at ELSTAT. When the police did a house search, Logothetis was actually at his computer, logged into Georgiou’s account. After less than six months in office Logothetis resigned from the ELSTAT board in February 2011 as criminal charges, based on his hacking into Georgiou’s account, were brought against him.

Logothetis has denied accessing the account and claims instead that various leading European statisticians framed him. His case is pending in court. In spite of being charged with unauthorised access to Georgiou’s account, Logothetis has repeatedly been called in as an expert witness in parliament in the cases against Georgiou and his two colleagues. His most recent appearance was in June with the Investigative Committee about how Greece got into the adjustment programs.

When revising wrong statistics equals ignoring national interest

In September 2011, Antonis Samaras the newly elected leader of New Democracy and minister for culture, gave a much noted speech at the Thessaloniki International Expo, where he attacked George Papandreou, accusing him of manipulating the statistics when Papandreou came to power in autumn 2009. Samaras claimed that Papandreou had done this only to discredit Kostas Karamanlis, who Samaras succeeded as a party leader and who had lost the election that brought Papandreou to power. – This speech proved fateful, not for Papandreou but for ELSTAT’s president Andreas Georgiou.

A few days after Samaras’ speech, Georgiou was called to the parliament to explain why he had ignored national interests and revised the figures upwards. Georgiou referred to the ESS Code of Practice but gained little understanding. Instead he was accused of inflating the 2009 figures under instruction of Eurostat to push Greece into the Adjustment Programme. This ignored the fact that the main corrections had been done before Georgiou took over at ELSTAT.

It is important to keep in mind the context for the 2009 deficit: there was the forecasted deficit of 3.9%, put forth by the MoF and reported by NSSG in April 2009 and then the estimate of the actual 2009 deficit of 13.6%, as reported by NSSG in April 2010. All of this had happened before Georgiou took over at ELSTAT in August 2010, after which the final adjustment from 13.6% to 15.4% was made.

The accusations against Georgiou also ignored the fact that Greece had entered the Adjustment Programme three months before he took over at ELSTAT and also that the Greek statistical data had been found to be wrong already before 2000 in addition to the swaps, reporting faulty data up to 2004 and then again up to end of 2009. Political figures both on left and right of the political spectrum united against the ELSTAT president as if the only reason for the country’s debt and deficit were statistics. The Greek Association of Lawyers accused Georgiou of high treason.

Around the time of the hearing in parliament in September 2011, a prosecutor took up the case against Georgiou and two ELSTAT managers and eventually pressed criminal charges in January 2013. In accordance with due process, an investigating judge began a more thorough investigation but at its conclusion, almost two years later, in August 2013 recommended that the case be dropped as nothing was found to merit taking the case further. Following interventions by politicians the case was kept open by the judicial system.

Twice again—in 2014 and 2015—prosecutors proposed that the case be dropped, always followed by interventions from nearly all sides of the political spectrum, which insisted on charges of false statements on the 2009 deficit and debt, and breach of faith against the state/causing the state damages be sustained and that the case be taken to trial. As the punishment should be relative to the damages, calculated to amount to €171bn, this would effectively have amounted to a prison sentence for life.

The charges against Georgiou and the two ELSTAT managers for allegedly making false statements on the 2009 statistics and breach of faith have recently been dropped. However, charges against Georgiou for alleged violation of duty i.a. for not bringing the 2009 figures to vote on the former board are being upheld. Some members of that former board still insist that the actual deficit figure of 2009 turned out to be identical to the planned deficit figure for 2009 of 3.9%, put forward in April 2009.

Truth commissions and ELSTAT

One of the measures agreed on by the Eurogroup and Greece after the fateful Euro Summit July 12, “(g)iven the need to rebuild trust with Greece,” was “safeguarding of the full legal independence of ELSTAT.” – This reflects the fact that ELSTAT’s independence is still not secured and ELSTAT’s president still under attack.

The two parliamentary committees – the Truth about the Debt Committee and the Investigative Committee about the Memoranda – both seem to be in denial regarding the swaps and the faulty statistics and both uphold blaming and shaming Georgiou and the two ELSTAT mangers.

In the Truth about the Debt Commission’s preliminary findings the earlier claims against Papandreou’s government are again taken up: “George Papandreou’s government helped to present the elements of a banking crisis as a sovereign debt crisis in 2009 by emphasizing and boosting the public deficit and debt.”

Further, it concludedthat Greece not only does not have the ability to pay this debt, but also should not pay this debt first and foremost because the debt emerging from the Troika’s arrangements is a direct infringement on the fundamental human rights of the residents of Greece. Hence, we came to the conclusion that Greece should not pay this debt because it is illegal, illegitimate, and odious.”

As recently as June 18, Nikos Logothetis testified before the Committee about the Memoranda, claiming that the deficit figures for 2009 and 2010 had been deliberately and artificially inflated. He called Georgiou a “Eurostat pawn” who had used tricks to increase the deficit figure.

However and quite remarkably, the Greek parliament has never questioned anyone on the tricks and manipulations going on at ELSTAT and other public institutions involved in reporting wrong data from before 2000 until 2010.

International support for ELSTAT managers

Contrary to the sustained attacks at home, Georgiou and the two managers have enjoyed the support of Eurostat, European and international associations of statisticians, reflecting the fact that under Georgiou ELSTAT’s reporting has fully complied with Eurostat standards.

In late May, European Statistical System, ESS, published a statement expressing concern regarding the situation in Greece, “where the statistical institute, ELSTAT, as well as some of its staff members, including the current President of ELSTAT, continue to be questioned in their professional capacity. There are ongoing political debates and investigatory and judicial proceedings related to actions taken by ELSTAT and to statistics which have repeatedly passed the quality checks applied by Eurostat to ensure full compliance with Union legislation.

On June 12 2015 The International Statistical Institute, ISI published its fourth statement regarding the situation in Greece, welcoming the proposal from the Greek Appeals prosecutor Antonis Liogas “that judicial authorities drop the investigation into claims that the current head of ELSTAT, Andreas Georgiou, inflated the country’s public deficit figure for 2009.” ISI pointed out that according to the prosecutor the probe into Georgiou and the two managers had not delivered any evidence suggesting that the three had manipulated the figures.

ISI repeated its statement from 2013 that “the charges against Mr. Georgiou and two of his Managers of exaggerating the estimates of Greek government deficit and debt for the year 2009 are fanciful and not consistent with the facts’… The ISI expresses the hope that justice will prevail in this case and that the threat of prosecution will finally be lifted from Mr Georgiou and his Managers.

As well as the statement on ELSTAT in the Euro Summit’s July 12 statement, these recent statements on ELSTAT show that political pressure on ELSTAT is still palpable.

The lethal blend of “unhealthy politeness” and “excessive deference”

The lack of scrutiny, as demonstrated in the saga of the faulty Greek statistics, can partly be blamed on the European powers. True, both Eurostat and then the European Commission did exhume the ELSTAT failures and misreporting; but that it could happen in the first place is also due to failures at the European level.

When the European Union created a single currency the Euro countries in effect embarked on a journey all on the same ship. By now, it is evident that neither did the crew, European authorities, have the necessary safety measures to keep discipline among the passengers nor have the passengers kept an eye on each other. In the summer of 2011, Mario Monti, already tried by his experience as EU Commissary, formulated what had gone wrong:

At the roots of the eurozone crisis lies of course the past indiscipline of specific member states, Greece in the first place. But such indiscipline could simply not have occurred without two widespread failings by governments as they sit at the table of the European Council: an unhealthy politeness towards each other, and excessive deference to large member states.”

A successful monetary union demands more than the countries being just fair-weather friends. The crisis countries, most notably Greece, can only learn from the past if they understand what happened. In Greece these failures were i.a. this basic function in a modern state of truthfully reporting statistics.

Truth or politically suitable truth

In December 2008, while Iceland was still in shock after the banking collapse, its parliament set up a Special Investigation Committee, SIC, which operated wholly independent of parliament. The three SIC members were its chairman Supreme Court Justice Páll Hreinsson, parliament’s Ombudsman Tryggvi Gunnarsson and lecturer in economics at Yale University Sigríður Benediktsdóttir who together supervised the work of ca. forty experts. Their report of 2600 pages was published April 10 2010.

The report buried the politically motivated explanations of the collapse being caused by foreigners and established instead a recount of what had happened, based both on documents and hearings (in private, not in public hearings). One benefit of the SIC report is that no political party or anyone else can now tell the collapse saga as suits their interest: the documented saga exists and this effectively ended the political blame game. Importantly, the report points out lessons to learn.

Sadly, nothing similar has been done in other crisis-hit European countries. The Irish parliament embarked on such a process in summer 2014 but so far, the efforts have not been wholly convincing. The two committees, set up by the Greek parliament, do not seem entirely credible, i.a. because the allegations of ELSTAT misconduct and manipulation under Georgiou are being recycled. Further, their scope seems myopic, i.a. as no effort is made to explain what went on at the institutions that from before 2000 until 2010 were reporting faulty statistics and forecasts and lying about the GS swaps.

All of this taken together shows a political class, also within Syriza, not only unwilling to face the past but actively fighting any attempt to clarify things in a battle where even national statistics are a dangerous weapon. The fact that leading Greek political powers are still fighting the wrong fight on statistics is unfortunately symptomatic for political undercurrents in Greece – and that partly explains the profound lack of trust among its creditors.

*A note on EU statistics: twice a year, before end of March and August, statistical authorities in the EU countries report forecasts of debt and deficit numbers for the current year, i.e. what the planned deficit and debt is and then statistical data for earlier years, i.e. the real debt and deficit, according to strict Eurostat methodology in order to produce comparable statistics. This reporting, called Excessive Deficit Procedure, EDP, is published by Eurostat in April and October every year.

Update: Andreas Georgiou’s time in office has not come to an end: he was hired for five years and is not reapplying. – It should be noted that it was George Papakonstantinou who was Minister of Finance when Georgiou was hired as president of ELSTAT. In addition, it was under Papakonstantinou that new laws to assure ELSTAT’s independence were passed in the summer of 2010.

This post was 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.

Follow me on Twitter for running updates.

Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

July 29th, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorised