Greece's statistics chief says the numbers are on his side

02/03/2012

Under siege for his report that created the Greek crisis, statistics chief Andreas Georgiou stands by his work

By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 02/03/12

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Andreas Georgiou is being accused of fudging numbers. [Andy Dabilis/SETimes]

The drama of Greece's economic crisis, which is jeopardising the eurozone and tilting world markets, is one of numbers -- but also one of intrigue and political battles.

The latter are playing out in the current investigation of the country's statistics chief for allegedly manipulating facts to create a demand for austerity by international lenders.

Andreas Georgiou, a former IMF deputy division chief for statistics, was appointed in August 2010 to overhaul the country's much-maligned statistics bureau, which was saddled with a reputation as a refuge for political cronies.

The new, independent Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) was created, but the old bickering remains.

"It is not nice to be accused in public of betraying my country, [but] I don't rely on what other people think," Georgiou told SETimes in an exclusive interview.

It was Georgiou who produced the report that said Greece's deficit was a staggering 15.4%, setting off a near-panic in the eurozone and jitters in stock markets from Paris to Wall Street to Tokyo.

Georgiou began feuding with the board's former Vice-President Nikos Logethetis, and with statistician Zoe Georganta, who were forced out. Georganta retaliated in September, saying that Georgiou falsified Greece's economic statistics, a charge that led to an investigation of Georgiou for allegedly betraying the national interests.

If tried and convicted, he faces a possible life sentence.

"I'm being prosecuted for not cooking the books," he said, reiterating his previous stance that he's the victim of an effort by political forces to keep him from presenting accurate figures.

Parliament voted late last month to set up a committee to investigate Georgiou's handling of ELSTAT, as well as to query the role of former Prime Minister George Papandreou and former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou.

"The politicisation of statistics and the charges politicians are leveling is very damaging. Greece had a very significant problem with its credibility gathering statistics," Georgiou said. "It is completely baseless, these accusations."

He said that when he set out to prevent political meddling in the bureau, he was met with resistance, particularly from Logothetis, as well as Georganta.

Georganta said Georgiou wouldn't let them have any role in the office, and inflated the deficit to suit the then-ruling PASOK Socialist administration and back up the need for Greece to be bailed out by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika.

"He's not a statistician … he did incredible things that showed us he had no experience in the running of committees … he put those numbers out after he excommunicated us," Georganta told SETimes.

The board wanted to vote on the statistics before they were released, which Georgiou refused to do, saying it would have injected politics into the bureau, she said.

Logethetis says he was framed.

"When I started being curious about the figures this whole thing started to go strange. I wanted to find out how these figures were calculated," Logothetis told SETimes.

Evidence of hacking into Georgiou's e-mails was found on a laptop he frequently left at ELSTAT, but not on his home computer.

"I don't know if it's a soap opera of a national kind of treason case. It happened for a purpose: to bring austerity measures to the Greek people," he told SETimes.

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Georgiou said his reporting was backed up by Eurostat, the EU's statistics arm, and noted that the numbers that the government is prosecuting him for were the basis of a new second bailout of 130 billion euros last month.

Georgiou said he had no reason to inflate the deficit. "Anyone who tries to manipulate figures and not present a true picture … follows a very short-sighted approach," he said. "It cannot be illegal to follow the law. We have followed the law and applied it fully."

Dimitri Vayanos, director of the Paul Woolley Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality at the London School of Economics, said the whole saga is "ridiculous".

While he said "something like this has to be investigated", he told SETimes that Georgiou "seems to be a very straight guy and they seem to be undermining him".

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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