Greek appellate council to rule, for third time, whether ex-stats agency head to face criminal trial

28 September 2018
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A council of appellate justices will decide, for a third time, whether the former head of Greece’s statistics authority, Andreas Georgiou, will be tried on charges of inflating the state’s primary budget deficit for 2009 and thereby causing the country to seek an international bailout – an inflammatory and widely repeated claim by anti-bailout and populist political forces since 2010.

In again eschewing the concept of “double jeopardy”, which isn’t applied in Greek law, appellate level prosecutor Stelios Kostarellos recommended that Georgiou face a trial on a charge of felony perjury.

The decision on whether he’ll face a trial again rests with the appellate council.

The prosecutor lends weight to the claims of two former EL.STAT board members critical of Georgiou, with the latter’s defense attorney charging that the Kostarellos failed to examine relevant European officials or even consider whether the methodology employed by the statistical authority under Georgiou’s tenure to determine the primary budget deficit. met EU criteria.

The indictment still includes a document by Eurostat stating that it has confirmed that Greece’s deficit for 2009 was determined based on European rules and criteria, ones that have applied to EL.STAT calculations up until today.

A Supreme Court council, the one assigned criminal code cases, last May accepted a recommendation by a high court prosecutor to overturn Georgiou’s previous acquittal.

The on-again, off-again legal entanglement of the former EL.STAT stems directly from allegations by a one-time colleague, who claimed that Georgiou intentionally, or by omission, inflated the Greek state’s budget deficit for 2009, whereby creating conditions for the then Papandreou government to request an IMF bailout in April 2010.

Another separate case involving Georgiou, on charges that he failed to brief EL.STAT’s board at the time, is pending before Greece’s highest court.

Georgiou’s incessant legal battles, acquittals and continuing appeals by prosecutors have generated sharp criticism from top European and international leaders.

In an article last August, FT wrote:

“Mr Georgiou has for six years been fighting accusations that, as head of Elstat, the statistical agency, he inflated Greece’s 2009 budget deficit, forcing the country to undergo deeper austerity. No matter that he had been acquitted of these charges a few months earlier, only to have the case reopened. No matter that the EU’s statisticians — whose standards he was supposed to be following — have endorsed both the procedures he followed and the figures he produced, describing last week’s trial as a “preset farce”. Mr Georgiou — a former IMF official and thus part of a hated international technocracy — is a convenient scapegoat for the failures of Greece’s political class. The case is exposing the limits of the EU’s influence.

“Ensuring Elstat’s independence is in theory a condition of the bailout. European finance ministers had urged Athens to “solve” the issue. The Greek judiciary has responded by suggesting that Mr Georgiou’s conviction is proof of their own independence from external meddling. This is cynical, to say the least. The unusual decision to revive charges against Mr Georgiou after an acquittal looks more like a concerted attempt to whitewash the Karamanlis government of 2004-09, which presided over the worst excesses of over-borrowing while fiddling the figures.

“The hard-left government of Alexis Tsipras is widely believed to have an understanding with Karamanlis supporters. Nor is it the only recent instance of charges being reopened in a politically sensitive case. The Supreme Court has revived charges against Gikas Hardouvelis, a former finance minister who had been acquitted of failing to declare his wealth correctly. It has similarly called into question the acquittal of Katerina Savvaidou, a former head of the independent revenue office, who was dismissed and accused of undue leniency in collecting corporate taxes.

“Political interference in the judiciary, and in other purportedly independent institutions, would hardly be a new phenomenon in Greece. But the election of the radical Syriza movement should have been an opportunity to break the cosy links between political parties and the state. Instead, Syriza seems to be building its own patronage networks and displaying increasingly authoritarian leanings. This presents a challenge for the EU, which is already struggling to hold Poland’s government to account for its erosion of judicial independence. The real loser, though, will be Greece. Investors want assurance that they can enforce contracts in the courts.”

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