Statistician Prosecuted: Latest Developments in Andreas Georgiou Case

By Steve Pierson posted 06-15-2017 10:26


This blog entry is co-authored with Robin Mejia, acting Chair of the ASA Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights and Ron Wasserstein, ASA Executive Director. In consultation with them, Pierson will provide new developments after the original posting of this blog post by inserting updates at the beginning of this blog entry. The updates will appear in square brackets with a date for the update.

[10/21/19: Please see this September 2019 update on the persecution of Georgiou entering a ninth year: Eight Years of Government Persecution of Greek Statistician.]

[7/28/18: Gerry O'Hanlon and Hallgrímur Snorrason have updated their excellent summary of the Court proceedings against Andreas Georgiou, posted to the website of the International Statistical Institute.]

[6/29/18: IMF Concluding Statement of IMF staff at the end of an official staff visit states, "Public sector efficiency and governance need to be strengthened further, and the *independence of the statistical authority should be protected."]

[6/26/18: Several items: 

  1. Eurogroup statement on Greece of 22 June 2018 refers to Georgiou case, possibly for first time: "We recalled that the ongoing legal proceedings against the members of the Committee of Experts (CoEx) of TAIPED are a matter of very serious concern and we reaffirm our full confidence in the work of the experts, which was also confirmed by the Hellenic Court of Auditors. Preoccupations also concern the proceedings against the former President and senior staff of ELSTAT, notably as regards the alleged falsification of fiscal data. The Eurogroup continues to have full confidence that the data validated by Eurostat and delivered by ELSTAT since 2010, including the 2009 general government balance outturn, is in compliance with the rules that are applied in all Member States. The Eurogroup mandates the institutions to continue monitoring the developments in those cases and the supporting actions taken by the Greek authorities, including legislative actions if needed, for instance strengthening the independence of ELSTAT, in full respect of the independence of the judiciary, and report back to the Eurogroup in the context of the post programme surveillance." Also noted at very end [48:10] of press conference.
  2. The European Union must defend Andreas Georgiou
  3. 80 Former Chief Statisticians Condemn Prosecution of Andreas Georgiou
  4. John FitzGerald: Public servant emerges as unlikely Greek hero
  5. An agreement on Greek debt that satisfies both sides (FT subscription)]

[6/15/18: Several items: 

  1. Andreas Georgiou public communication of his irreversible conviction for violation of duty.
  2. ASA Denounces Greek Supreme Court Decision to Uphold Double-Jeopardy Conviction of Former Chief Statistician
  3. ASA Board Decries Second Annulment of Former Greece Chief Statistician’s Acquittal
  4. The hounding of Greece’s former statistics chief is disturbing, The Economist, 6/14/18.
  5. Former head of Greek statistical agency faces prison for revealing accurate economic data, op-ed by Eugene Chudnovsky, Washington Examiner, 6/15/18.
  6. ISI Statement: Andreas Georgiou’s acquittal has been annulled for the second time!]

[6/11/18: Greek's top court upholds suspended prison sentence for former statistician Andreas Georgiou for violation of duty for which he was convicted in 2017 in double jeopardy trial. He was acquitted of these charges in December 2016 by a unanimous three-judge trial.]

[5/14/18: Greek High Court Keeps Alive Case Tied to Debt Crisis: Former statistics agency head again faces charges of inflating country’s deficit during financial crisis, Nektaria Stamouli, WSJ.]

[March 2018: Crowdfunding effort created to help Georgiou with legal defense costs:]

[February 2018: 24 organizations and more than 1,100 individuals--included Nobel Laureates and other high profile individuals--sign statement to Greek officials in support of Andreas Georgiou. Press release.]

[10/20/17: the Federation of European Statistical Societies (FENStatS), whose members are the National Statistical Societies from 23 European countries, write letter to Prime Minister Tsipras expressing deep concern over the legal proceedings against Andreas Georgiou.]

[10/23/17: According to private sources, the Greek Supreme Court had a hearing on 10/20 about whether to accept the proposal of the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court to annul the acquittal of Andreas Georgiou and his two former colleagues by the Appeals Court for complicity against the state. See the 7/19 update below regarding the 5/26 acquittal. A decision make take months.]

[9/15/17: Greece warned [by Euro ministers] over trial of former statistics chiefFinancial Times, 9/15/17.] 

[9/12/17: The European Statistical Governance Advisory Board is closely following developments in the Greek statistical system, 9/12/18 press release from ESGAB. The concluding paragraphs read: 

ESGAB is waiting to see the details behind these judgements, as the ability of the President of a national statistical institute to act independently is not only a requirement under EU law, but is essential for the credibility of official statistics and a key principle of the European Statistics Code of Practice.

As part of its mandate to assess the implementation of the European Statistics Code of Practice in the European Statistical System as a whole, ESGAB will continue to follow events in the Hellenic Statistical System very closely. The next report by the Good Practice Advisory Committee, which reports on institutional aspects of the Hellenic Statistical System, and on which ESGAB is represented, will be an important input into ESGAB’s assessment of the situation.]

[9/8/17: See an excellent summary of the Court proceedings against Andreas Georgiou, by Gerry O'Hanlon and Hallgrímur Snorrason, posted to the website of the International Statistical Institute.] 

[9/1/17: The ASA's Robin Mejia, Barry Nussbaum, and Ron Wasserstein today sent a letter to Greek Prime Minister Tsipras urging a halt to all prosecutions of Andreas Georgiou, exoneration of past convictions, and a public apology. ]

[8/31/17: We just learned Dr. Georgiou has been convicted in yet another case, this one being a civil suit for alleged slander regarding comments he made in defense of the statistical data produced and released under his leadership, during 2010-2015. Such public comments about government data is a standard practice around the world that is in accordance with the European Statistics Code of Practice, which is referred to in Greek law, and other international guidelines. The slander conviction also is contrary to Georgiou’s democratic right to free speech. The slander suit was brought by the former (2006-2010) director of National Accounts Division of the statistics office. The amount of damages is not yet known. We note the irony of the situation in that no slander charges have been brought against those who have persistently scapegoated and relentlessly criticized Dr. Georgiou for his fulfillment of public duty. Out of six open cases, this is the third conviction.]

[8/2/17: News coverage of the 8/1/17 conviction for violation of duty: WSJ, Reuters, FT, Katherini, Washington Post/AP.]  

[8/1/17: We learned today that Dr. Georgiou was convicted of violation of duty today and sentenced to suspended two years of jail time. The ASA has issued a statement in response via Twitter with it soon to appear on our website.]  

[7/25/17: The Greek Government does not appear to be fulfilling its supplemental MOU agreement for the latest disbursement, which has been paid, that it would pay Dr. Georgiou's court costs. It seems that the legislation only applies if Dr. Georgiou is found innocent. The following July 24 article in Greek has the following title using Google translate, "Chouliarakis: If Georgios ELSTAT is finally convicted he will pay the costs." 

Also, two articles--again through Google translate here and here--report Greek Prime Minister Tsipras used the revised 2009 Greek deficit numbers produced under Dr. Georgiou's leadership.]

[7/20/17: Since the European Union reached terms of agreement with Greece earlier this month for the disbursement of 7.7 billion Euro, legislation has been expected to enact the condition that Greece would cover Dr. Georgiou's court costs. That legislation was released today. According to the Greek publication Kathimerini, "The Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) will pick up the bill for any legal and court costs incurred by its former officials, a provision of a draft bill submitted to Parliament Thursday stipulates. According to the would-be legislation, the costs will be added to ELSTAT’s budget and the statistics service would only avoid paying them if the former official is convicted." Stipulating such a condition for payment is very concerning. 

Let me also note Ron Wasserstein is quoted in the WSJ article shared yesterday: “The prosecutions send a chilling message to those currently producing Greece’s economic statistical figures and undermine the credibility of the data. We remain hopeful that the Greek government and judiciary will stop this unjust persecution of Mr. Georgiou.”]

[7/19/17: Greece's Supreme Court Prosecutor has overturned the May 26 acquittal of Dr. Georgiou for complicity again the state. As discussed below, the May 26 acquittal was the second acquittal so another trial on this charges would be the third. WSJ's Nektaria Stamouli wrote this piece today, Greek Authorities Escalate Investigation Against Former Statistics Agency Head.] 

[7/18/17: We understand this summer's disbursement of 7.7 billion euro to Greece was approved by the Board of Directors of the European Stability Mechanism with a possible condition that Greece pay for Dr. Georgiou's court costs. The condition, which must be legislated by the Greek government, is included in the July 5 Supplemental Memorandum of Understanding between the European Stability Mechanism, Hellenic Republic, and the Bank of Greece, the relevant portion for which is pasted below the original blog text below. It is not clear if item (v) is retroactive to Dr. Georgiou's 2010-2015 tenure.

We also understand that Georgiou's second trial for violation of duty that began May 29 continued today but was suspended again until July 31.]

The ASA, through its ASA Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights, has been watching closely the Andreas Georgiou situation, which recently saw some good news and more concerning news.

As a reminder to readers, Dr. Georgiou started as President of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) in August 2010 after twenty distinguished years with the International Monetary Fund. In response to concern for its economic statistical figures from its European partners, Greece had just adopted a new law to modernize the production of its official statistics. 

In addition to producing current official statistics in many areas entrusted to ELSTAT, Georgiou oversaw the revisions of public finance data from 2006-2009. Soon after the start of his tenure, the criminal and civil charges began for—it seems to the ASA and other experts familiar with the case—doing his job to produce accurate, complete, and current public finance data.

On May 11, 2017, in advance of the European Union disbursement of seven billion Euro to Greece on the basis of figures produced by Georgiou and more recent ones using exactly the same methodology, the European Statistical Governance Advisory Board (ESGAB) issued an Opinion “concerning professional statistical independence and staffing resources in the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).” The statement said ESGAB welcomed the progress that Greece had made noting that “since November 2010, the Greek government’s deficit and debt statistics have been published by Eurostat without reservation.” It went on to express its concern that,

 at the current time, long-running legal proceedings are in fact under way, against the former President of ELSTAT and two senior colleagues, for allegedly conspiring to artificially inflate the 2009 government deficit figures. Disappointingly, these legal proceedings, which are widely considered to have a substantial political context, have dragged on without a clear conclusion since 2011. The longer these proceedings take, the greater the damage to the credibility of the institutions tasked with upholding public confidence in Greek statistics. 

The statement also noted that, 

paradoxically, while legal proceedings are under way against three officials who the European Commission [Eurostat] considers to have properly implemented European statistical standards, no legal action has been taken by the Greek government to bring to account those responsible for the misreporting, during two different periods, of Greek deficit and debt data, which was detected following the transmission of revised figures in 2004 and 2009. This lack of action not only sends out the wrong message to all those who may have manipulated, or who might seek to manipulate, official statistics in Greece; it also reinforces the perception that administrators and politicians are not taking the implementation of professional statistical independence sufficiently seriously and  reflects unfavourably on the European Statistical System as a whole. 

The charges against Dr. Georgiou include criminal and civil charges for slander, criminal complicity against the state, and violation of duty misdemeanor charges. There are also investigations against Dr. Georgiou for related matters. 

The slander complaint involved a press release Georgiou released in response to repeated critiques of his agency’s public finance statistics and in which he defended the statistics produced under his responsibility—an action required by the European Statistics Code of Practice. According to Georgiou, the press release also indicated his statistics had routinely been validated by Eurostat, the statistics office of the European Union, and noted the data produced prior to his tenure were not being investigated. In June 2016, the convening court convicted Mr. Georgiou for slander, imposed a one-year prison sentence, which was suspended but can be reinstated if Dr. Georgiou is convicted of any other criminal charges. In March 2017, his conviction to one-year sentence was upheld by an Appeals Court.

On May 26, 2017 Georgiou was acquitted for the charge of complicity against the state, charges that had included artificially inflating the size of Greece’s budget deficit in 2009 and causing Greece damage of 171 billion euro, according to the Wall Street Journal. This ruling was the second time Georgiou was acquitted on these exact charges by an Appeals Court Council. The first time the Greek Supreme court overturned the acquittal; it has 30 days from when the decision is formally submitted to consider this acquittal, as well.

Georgiou had also previously been acquitted of the charge of violation of duty (for not putting up the 2009 public finance figures for voting, for not continuing to convene a then-existing board of ELSTAT when the police found out that members of the board were daily hacking and distributing among themselves Georgiou’s emails, and for allegedly doing work for the IMF while at ELSTAT) in December 2016 by a unanimous three-judge panel. Georgiou’s second trial for these same charges began May 29, 2017 but was suspended that day until July 18.  The presiding judge adjourned the trial early without allowing Georgiou’s expert witnesses—who had traveled from Ireland, Iceland, and Luxembourg—to testify. 

We should state that, while the ASA has not tried to independently validate the ELSTAT data from Georgiou’s time, the data has been checked and accepted many times since 2010 by the statistical office of the European Union, Eurostat, in the semiannual quality assurance procedures provided for in European law. Just as relevant, the ASA is not aware of any credible evidence that the economic statistical data produced under Georgiou’s case is incorrect. 

As a reminder of ASA activity in support of Georgiou, the ASA wrote to the Greek Prime Minister in March 2017 (i) expressing "deep concern over the legal proceedings against Andreas Georgiou, the former president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), and other senior ELSTAT officials"; and (ii) urging "the Government of Greece to unambiguously and publicly fulfill its Commitment on Confidence in Statistics ... by immediately taking all actions necessary to publicly defend against any efforts to undermine the credibility of the Greek statistics produced by Dr. Georgiou and his former colleagues so that all charges against these official statisticians are dropped." The letter is further discussed in this 3/29 ASA press release or this blog entry.  

Among ASA’s other activities since the March letter is ASA President Barry Nussbaum and Executive Director Ron Wasserstein joined a letter to Financial Times in support of Andreas Georgiou: Statisticians’ work is crucial to Greece’s reform effort


External Links and Press Clips (to be updated with new stories):

[7/18/17 Update: Excerpt from the Supplemental Memorandum of Understanding (second addendum to the Memorandum of Understanding) between the European Commission Acting on Behalf of the European Stability Mechanism and the Hellenic Republic and the Bank of Greece

Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT)

The Government fully respects the independence of ELSTAT in carrying out its tasks and providing high quality statistics in a timely manner. For this, the Government will continue implementing necessary reforms and investigate all the support possibilities available to provide ELSTAT with adequate human resources, sufficient financial means and continue providing effective access to administrative data.

In particular, the government will by June 2017 (key deliverable) in consultation with the Institutions:
i. legislate to facilitate the set up and staffing of the President's office consistent with the Mobility Law;
ii. legislate to give the President of ELSTAT greater autonomy and flexibility in deciding how the organisation's agreed budget should be spent, including the ability to transfer funds between budgetary headings within agreed limits;
iii. increase ELSTAT's budget from January 2018 to facilitate the recruitment and retention of highly skilled staff through the introduction of compensations based on job descriptions, consistent with the unified wage grid legislation;
iv. set up a framework for staff-level agreements to allow ELSTAT to contribute on a cost-paid basis to specific projects of other public bodies;
v. legislate the State indemnification of the ELSTAT President - and other ELSTAT officials acting upon his/her authority - against legal and other costs (including counsel's actual fees and personal financial liabilities) incurred as a result of legal challenges/actions/proceedings taken or threatened against them in relation to decisions made and actions taken (including potential omissions) pursuant to carrying out their official functions in compliance with applicable provisions and rules, statutory or otherwise.

This follows up the commitments taken by the Government in the Commitment on Confidence in Statistics signed in March 2012, in order to support ELSTAT in upholding confidence in Greek statistics and to defend them against any efforts to undermine their credibility, as well as to report annually to the Hellenic Parliament and to the European Commission.]