Greece’s statistics chief will face felony charges over accusations he artificially inflated budget deficit figures in a bid to make the country’s debt crisis appear even worse than it was, court sources said on Tuesday.
Greek statistics agency ELSTAT head Andreas Georgiou has previously denied wrongdoing and the EU’s own Eurostat statistics agency has defended him, saying the deficit was calculated in line with its standards.
However, an economic crimes prosecutor recommended the felony charges be filed against Mr. Georgiou and two other ELSTAT employees after finding evidence that they falsified the country’s 2009 fiscal data, a court official said on condition of anonymity.
The case stems from allegations by an ELSTAT employee who was dismissed that Mr. Georgiou inflated the deficit numbers as part of a German-led conspiracy to justify harsh austerity measures to accompany a bailout.
“The request concerns breach of duty and the falsification of fiscal data,” the official said, without giving further details.
Mr. Georgiou, a 52-year old veteran IMF statistician and martial arts teacher, was not available for comment.
In the past, he has denied any wrongdoing and called it an “unprecedented” case of statisticians being investigated for producing figures under EU regulations.
The prosecutor’s move reopens last year’s domestic political row on whether incorrect fiscal data was to blame for a loss of confidence in Greek debt in late 2009, before Mr. Georgiou took over the agency, forcing Athens to seek an international bailout that has since swollen to €240-billion ($317-billion) – the biggest sovereign rescue in history.
Unreliable Greek statistics with frequent data revisions have been blamed in part for pushing Greece to a financial crisis and Mr. Georgiou was brought in as ELSTAT chief in 2010 to overhaul the agency and improve its data.
In November 2010, shortly after he took over, the 2009 budget deficit was revised to more than 15 per cent of gross domestic product from 13.6 per cent, indicating the scale of Greece’s fiscal derailment and deepening the country’s crisis.
A senior prosecutor is expected to formally file the charges against Mr. Georgiou in the coming days following the recommendation on Tuesday. A further inquiry will be conducted before a trial is held, the court official said.
If convicted on charges of breach of faith – a crime that usually applies to those who embezzle or misuse public funds – Mr. Georgiou could face at least five years in jail.