Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Greek statistics: Numbers in action

November 29, 2011

Euro-zone finance ministers meeting today in Brussels are preparing to release Greece’s latest (and much-delayed) tranche of bail-out funding, worth €8 billion ($10.7 billion). But all is not well in the country that kicked off the long-running euro crisis. Andreas Georgiou, the head of Elstat, Greece’s statistics agency, is facing a criminal investigation for allegedly fiddling the public-finance books.

If the investigation finds that the state was damaged by such actions, Mr Georgiou could be charged with "breach of faith", a crime that carries a potential life sentence. On December 12th he will appear before a prosecutor to provide evidence. He denies the allegation. "Unfortunately, in Greece statistics is a combat sport," he told the Financial Times.

Mr Georgiou stands accused of artificially upping Greece's 2009 budget-deficit figure from 13.4% to 15.8% of GDP, taking the country to the top of the euro zone's league of fiscal shame for that year. The revised estimates, say his detractors, meant that Greece was forced by its international partners to take ever-harsher austerity measures to receive bail-out funding. Mr Georgiou would make a useful scapegoat to many Greeks who have suffered over the past two years.

The case was brought following claims by Zoi Georganta, an Elstat board member, that Mr Georgiou had inflated the budget-deficit figures. Ms Georganta, along with most of the other board members, was sacked earlier this year. Some former Elstat officials have supported her claims.


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