Greek Statistician Found Liable for Slander,
Continues to Face Persecution
Advocacy Issue Update
American Statistical Association President Robert Santos recently decried the Greek appeals court decision finding former Greek chief statistician Andreas Georgiou liable for slander with the following statement:
The American Statistical Association is deeply concerned that a false narrative has damaged the scientific integrity of highly regarded work addressing Greece’s problematic fiscal statistical reporting from the 2000s. Georgiou, the loyal and highly capable Greek chief official statistician from 2010 to 2015, was unjustly cast as the scapegoat for the austerity measures put in place with the EU and International Monetary Fund loans from the early 2010s to help Greece’s then-struggling economy. Persecuting a scientific government official for doing his job with rigor and integrity to produce official statistics is deeply concerning. The American Statistical Association recommends that this injustice be recognized and remedied.
The slander charge pertains to a public statement Georgiou made in his official role while fulfilling his responsibility to defend the fully validated official deficit and debt statistics for Greece produced under his leadership.
“We urge Greece to end its now 10-year persecution of Georgiou and fully exonerate him, thereby signaling Greece’s commitment to accurate and ethical government statistics,” added ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein. “I’m sorry for all Georgiou has had to endure, but I also commend, and am grateful for, his defense of official statistics. With his perseverance and strength, he is an exemplary embodiment of the commitment of an official statistician to produce the most reliable, impartial data possible.”
Georgiou was selected to head the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) following the March 2010 passage of Greek law to modernize the production of official statistics, apply fully the European Union (EU) rules for the production of these statistics, and ensure ELSTAT’s independence and overall implementation of statistical ethics.
The law was enacted as the Greek debt crisis was erupting and addressed concerns repeatedly voiced by European partners about the credibility of previous Greek economic statistical figures. One of Georgiou’s first responsibilities was therefore to oversee 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.
The ELSTAT data produced under Georgiou and their specific methodology has been checked and accepted 21 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.
However, because of the austerity measures that came with the loans, 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. As the effects of the austerity measures started to be felt, criminal investigations were initiated against Georgiou in September 2011. Greece proceeded to prosecute Georgiou for doing his job to produce accurate, complete, and current public finance statistics, starting with charges of complicity against the state and violation of duty.
The slander charges originated in 2014, nearly three years after the first investigations started. Wasserstein posits slander was pursued to increase pressure on Georgiou after it became clear the other charges and investigations had not deterred Georgiou’s commitment to independent, accurate statistics.
Reacting to continued, relentless attacks of the statistics produced under his leadership, Georgiou issued a strenuous public defense of the integrity of these statistics, also noting the lack of recognized validity for the originally provided data for 2006–2009 by Eurostat and others.
Public comments about government statistics are a standard practice around the world and in accordance with the European Statistics Code of Practice. Public comments are also in accordance with one’s democratic right to free speech, including in Greece.
Nevertheless, both criminal and civil charges were instigated against Georgiou by the former (2006–2010) director of the national accounts division of the statistics office, who was responsible for production of the deficit and debt statistics Eurostat could not validate. In 2016, a First Instance Court convicted Georgiou of simple 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. After an appeals court upheld the ruling, the Greek Supreme Court annulled it for legal errors.
Last month’s ruling concerned a companion civil suit for simple slander for which, in 2017, Georgiou was ordered to pay damages and publish large parts of the convicting decision as a ‘public apology.’
“The ASA sees the continued perpetration of a false narrative and persecution of an honest and highly capable official statistician as an injustice, a violation of Georgiou’s human rights, and a detriment to Greece’s reputation and economy,” says Wasserstein. “Prosecuting Georgiou for stating what is widely validated and fulfilling his official responsibilities is a travesty. The recent revelations that the Greek government has extensively funded the plaintiff’s legal expenditures to pursue the slander case against its former chief statistician is especially disgraceful.”
The ASA Board has issued three statements since 2017 on Greece’s prosecution of Georgiou.