Greece has decided it knows who’s really to blame for its debt crisis—the pesky statistician that measured and described it. The Financial Times reports:
Statistics experts are open to criticism if the numbers fail to add up. But Andreas Georgiou, former chief of Greece’s statistical agency, says he is living in an upside-down world where he is being prosecuted for consistently getting them right.
Mr Georgiou and two colleagues are to face trial on criminal charges of undermining the “national interest”, according to a ruling last week by the Greek supreme court overturning their acquittal by a lower court.
The charges concern the alleged “inflation” of the budget deficit and debt figures for 2009, the year in which Greece plunged into an unprecedented financial crisis that prompted the first of three bailouts by the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
By “inflation” what the Greeks appear to be referring to is Mr. Georgiou coming in and un-cooking the books in the wake of the country’s 2009 economic crisis:
Mr Georgiou won the trust of Greece’s creditors by producing an accurate statement of the 2009 deficit within a few months of taking the helm at Elstat, an independent statistical agency set up as a condition of the bailout deal. His findings were validated by experts from Eurostat, the EU statistics watchdog.
But Elstat’s revised figure for the deficit of 15.4 per cent of gross domestic product, compared with a finance ministry estimate of 13.6 per cent, sent shockwaves through Greek politicians and central bank officials.
As a result, Greek politicians charge that the country had to pay much more for their bailout—and that this is Mr. Georgiou’s fault.
The Financial Times rightly draws comparisons between the motivations for this prosecution and Greece’s behavior between 1999, when they joined the Eurozone largely by cooking the books, and 2009, when the crisis hit. During that time, misreporting financial information was considered routine practice by the government—while the real underlying problems piled up to critical proportions.
Today, Greece remains mired in an intractable crisis. And it would appear that, as Talleyrand said of the Bourbons, Greece’s elite have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.