Tentative Justice Won for Greece’s Georgiou

A Greek council of appeals cleared Andreas Georgiou, former head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT, the national statistics office of Greece), on complicity against the state charges regarding the 2009 Greek deficit and debt statistics. The February 28 decision is the third time Georgiou has been cleared on these charges. On two prior occasions, Greek Supreme Court prosecutors acted to annul the acquittals. It remains unclear if supreme court prosecutors will again act to reopen the case.

The complicity against the state charges—along with criminal and civil charges for slander and violation of duty against the state and other ongoing criminal investigations—have long been seen by the broader international community as unjust persecution of a public official dutifully carrying out his responsibilities according to international statistical standards and ethics. The economic figures released under his leadership, along with the methods used to produce them, have been supported by the European Union and around the world. The ASA has been  vocal with the international community in urging “Greek authorities to drop its prosecutions of Georgiou and his colleagues, exonerate them of past convictions, drop ongoing investigations relating to their official work, and apologize for the appalling treatment they have endured over a protracted period.”

In June 2018, Greece’s supreme court upheld the violation of duty conviction of Georgiou reached in 2017 in a double jeopardy trial. He was convicted for not submitting the 2009 deficit and debt statistics to a vote by the then existing board of ELSTAT. He had been acquitted of these charges in December 2016 in a trial by a unanimous three-judge panel, which recognized Georgiou was acting in accordance with the European Statistics Code of Practice, as provided for in Greek and European law.

Another set of cases concerns criminal slander charges for Georgiou’s public defense of these same public finance statistics for which he is wrongfully prosecuted. Such public comments about government statistics are, of course, a standard practice around the world and in accordance with the European Statistics Code of Practice.

The slander charges, brought on the basis of complaints by the former (2006–2010) director of the national account’s division of the statistics office, are also contrary to Georgiou’s democratic right to free speech. We note the irony of the situation in that no slander charges have been brought against those who have persistently scapegoated and relentlessly criticized Georgiou for fulfillment of his public duty.

For the criminal slander charge, Georgiou was convicted in criminal court in 2016. The court imposed a suspended one-year prison sentence for “simple slander.” Our understanding is this Greek judicial category of “simple slander” means Georgiou made true statements that were deemed to damage the reputation of the plaintiff. In March 2017, his conviction to a one-year sentence was upheld by an appeals court only to be later annulled on technical grounds by the Greek Supreme Court and a new trial ordered. Georgiou, however, could not be tried yet again, as the statute of limitations had expired in this case.

In August 2017, Georgiou was convicted in a companion civil suit for the same alleged slander. In May 2019, a court will consider his appeal on these civil suit slander charges.

There are also two other criminal investigations against Georgiou for related matters underway that could be used to continue or further broaden his persecution in Greece. One criminal investigation was initiated in September 2016 for the same complicity against the state charges as above, but now also implicating officials from Eurostat and the International Monetary Fund. Another criminal investigation has been open since 2013 and concerns Georgiou’s efforts to safeguard statistical confidentiality within ELSTAT as required by the European Statistics Code of Practice.

The American Statistical Association welcomes the latest news about the Greek Appeals Court Council’s decision, but emphasizes the persecution of Georgiou continues on many fronts. We join the broader international community in again calling for Greek authorities to halt the persecution of Georgiou by dropping all charges and investigations against him.