Bloomberg: The Scandalous Persecution of a Greek Whistle-Blower

4 August 2017
905 Views

The statistician who exposed the true extent of Greece’s fiscal collapse must think that doing the right thing was the worst decision he ever made. Andreas Georgiou has been vilified at home and charged with multiple violations of the country’s civil and criminal law. An appeals court has just upheld his conviction for a minor procedural offense, giving him a suspended sentence, and with more serious charges still pending, his protracted legal ordeal isn’t over yet.

This officially sanctioned persecution is disgraceful and ought to stop. The European Union has criticized the Greek authorities for their actions in the case, but to no great effect. That needs to change.

Georgiou was recruited in 2010 from the International Monetary Fund to clean up Greece’s public accounts. For years, Greek politicians had leaned on national statisticians to disguise the extent of public borrowing. When Athens asked the EU and the IMF for help, they demanded an accurate accounting. Georgiou found that the budget deficit was 15.4 percent of gross domestic product, much higher than previously thought.

That number was the benchmark used to calculate the size of Greece’s bailout and the degree of budget tightening demanded in return — prompting allegations that Georgiou had manipulated the figures, siding with foreign creditors against his country. His persecution at the hands of the press and his own government began.

The appeals court found Georgiou guilty of failing to consult the board of the statistical agency he led. (Georgiou suspended board meetings after finding that one of its members had hacked into his emails.) Further appeals are possible so the conviction may yet be overturned. Meanwhile, much more serious charges of cooking the books and acting against the national interest have not been resolved.

Throughout Georgiou’s time in charge, the EU’s own statistical agency, Eurostat, approved his work. That work was undertaken in the first place because the EU deemed it essential. The Greek government, under EU pressure, is paying only part of his heavy legal costs, and the administration of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras continues to make him a scapegoat for Greece’s economic disaster.

This travesty has gone on far too long. The Greek government should recognize Georgiou as a brave civil servant who did his job, indemnify him for his legal costs, and press for a prompt resolution of the remaining issues. And the European Union should insist more firmly on all of the above.

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