Eight Years of Government Persecution
of Greek Statistician
Advocacy Issue Update
Eight years ago this month in Greece, a criminal investigation was launched into statistician Andreas Georgiou—the then-head of the Greek national statistics office—and two of his colleagues, alleging falsification of Greece’s official deficit and debt statistics. The action was widely condemned around the world, with official statements of protest from the ASA and International Statistical Institute, among others. Persecution of Georgiou continues today, with two criminal investigations still open and an appeals court date to consider a 2017 civil court decision that found him liable for slander set for January 2020.
Earlier this year, Greece elected a new prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Observers are concerned this change in leadership may lead to a renewed persecution of Georgiou, who during his tenure as head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) had, through the revision of official statistics, exposed persistently inaccurate economic statistics produced by Greece when members of Misotakis’s political party (New Democracy) was in power during 2004–2009. Members of this party have persistently and publicly fomented the persecution of Georgiou since 2011.
ASA leadership is looking to Greece for a fresh start in the country’s official treatment of Georgiou. Ending the persecution of Georgiou and exonerating him for past convictions would signal Greece’s commitment to accurate and ethical government statistics. This, in turn, would help foster foreign investment and overall confidence among Greece’s international partners, which are necessary for Greece’s economy to flourish.
As head of ELSTAT from 2010–2015, Georgiou was responsible for modernizing the production of official statistics, applying fully the European Union (EU) rules for the production of these statistics and ensuring ELSTAT’s independence and overall implementation of statistical ethics. This was mandated by a Greek law, which was passed in March 2010 as the Greek debt crisis was erupting in response to concerns repeatedly voiced by European partners over the credibility of previous Greek economic statistical figures. In this context, early in his tenure, Georgiou oversaw revisions of the public finance statistics for 2006–2009 that the EU’s statistical office could not validate. It was these corrected figures that allowed Greece to continue to qualify for the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans given to help its struggling economy through a tough fiscal adjustment process.
However, because of the austerity measures that came with necessary adjustment, Georgiou quickly became a scapegoat, blamed by leaders across the Greek political spectrum for the debt crisis, the full size of which his work had uncovered. Greece proceeded to prosecute Georgiou for doing his job to produce accurate, complete, and current public finance statistics. As the effects of the austerity measures started to be felt, criminal investigations were initiated against Georgiou in September 2011. Eventually, criminal and civil cases launched included cases for complicity against the state for revising the 2006–2009 public finance statistics, violation of duty for not putting these statistics to a vote, and slander. Convictions with jail time ensued (suspended thus far), along with double and triple jeopardy trials, fines, and public insults.
Open investigations for related matters and a legal trial persist today. See the box at the bottom of this article for a summary of the complete list of charges and standings.
The ELSTAT data produced under Georgiou and their specific methodology has been checked and accepted 18 times since 2010 by Eurostat in its semiannual quality assurance procedures provided for in European law. In addition, the statistical processes and ethics characterizing the production and dissemination of these official statistics under Georgiou’s watch are considered by the international statistical community to be fully consistent with international statistical principles and ethics.
Further, Georgiou has received broad support from the international statistical, scientific, and economist communities, including the American Statistical Association, National Academy of Sciences Committee on Human Rights, International Statistical Institute, and AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition.
In 2018, six statistical professional societies from around the world issued a special commendation of Georgiou for his “competency and strength in the face of adversity; his commitment to the production of quality and trustworthiness of official statistics; and his advocacy for the improvement, integrity, and independence of official statistics.”
Also, in 2018, more than 600 people and 40 organizations signed a petition calling on Greek officials to immediately halt legal proceedings against Georgiou and his colleagues and noting the detriment of the Greek authorities’ approach to the country’s economy. The signers include nine Nobel laureates, a former managing director of the IMF, a former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, two former chief statisticians of the United States (one of whom is also a former director of the United Nations Statistics Division), current and former heads and officials of national statistical offices from around the world, many officials and former officials of national statistical offices, national statistical society officers, academicians and professionals, and dozens of Greek nationals.
For more information, see this American Statistical Association March 2019 update and the following links at the Friends of Greece website: editorials; blogs and podcasts; public statements.
Complete List of Charges and Standings
Complicity against the state: These charges contend Georgiou artificially inflated the size of Greece’s 2009 budget deficit statistics and caused Greece damage of 171 billion euro. Georgiou has been cleared of these charges on three occasions, most recently on March 8, 2019, by a Greek Council of Appeals Court. After the two prior clearances, the chief prosecutor of the Greek Supreme Court subsequently proposed to annul the acquittals and the Supreme Court agreed. Because the window for annulment on the March acquitting decision has closed, no further action is expected on these charges.
Violation of duty: These charges contend Georgiou violated his duty as head of ELSTAT when, in November 2010, he did not put up the revised 2006–2009 public finance statistics for a vote following such demands of a then-existing board at ELSTAT and stopped convening that board after police discovered a member was hacking Georgiou’s emails and other members gained access to them and used them. The charges also alleged Georgiou continued to do work for the IMF while at ELSTAT. He was acquitted of all these charges in December 2016 in a trial by a unanimous three-judge panel at First Instance Court, which recognized Georgiou was acting in accordance with the European Statistics Code of Practice as provided for in Greek and European law. However, his acquittal was reversed a few days later by an outside prosecutor, and he was re-tried by the appeals court for the same charges (a practice known as double jeopardy, which Greek law does not prohibit) and convicted in 2017 for not putting the statistics to a vote. (He was again acquitted of the other two charges.)
In June 2018, Greece’s Supreme Court upheld the violation of duty conviction despite evidence and testimony about what the European Statistics Code of Practice requires, as it assigns to the head of the National Statistical Institute “sole responsibility for deciding on statistical methods, standards and procedures, and on the content and timing of statistical releases.” Georgiou was sentenced to two years in jail, which was suspended for three years unless Georgiou receives another conviction. The only recourse to overturn this conviction would be exoneration through a new trial based on discovery of new information.
Slander: The criminal slander charges concern Georgiou’s public defense of the revised public finance statistics for the period leading up to his tenure. These charges were instigated by the former (2006–2010) director of the national accounts division of the statistics office, which was responsible for production of the deficit and debt statistics Eurostat could not validate. Georgiou’s public comments about government statistics produced under his watch are a standard practice around the world and are in accordance with the European Statistics Code of Practice. His public comments are also in accordance with Georgiou’s democratic right to free speech.
In 2016, a First Instance Court convicted Georgiou of “simple slander” (as opposed to criminal slander) and imposed a suspended one-year prison sentence. (Simple slander under Greek law means that even though the statements Georgiou made were true, he should not have made them because they damaged the honor and reputation of the plaintiff.) In March 2017, this sentence was upheld by an appeals court, only to be later annulled by the Greek Supreme Court as the convicting decision had significant legal errors in it. (A new trial was ordered, but since the statute of limitations had expired, Georgiou could not be tried again, the charges were dropped, and his conviction was quashed.)
In August 2017, Georgiou was found liable in a companion civil suit for the same simple slander; he was ordered to pay damages and publish large parts of the convicting decision as a “public apology.” In January 2020, an appeals court will consider his appeal on this decision.
Other investigations: A criminal investigation was initiated in September 2016 by the chief prosecutor of the supreme court for the same complicity against the state charges as above, but now also implicating officials from Eurostat and the IMF. There has been no indication that this investigation has been closed. An additional criminal investigation has been open since 2013 concerning Georgiou’s efforts to safeguard statistical confidentiality of household and enterprise data within ELSTAT as required by the European Statistics Code of Practice. This criminal investigation appears to be ongoing, as well.