Georgiou is not a mobster. He’s not a hit man or a spy. He’s a statistician. And the sin at the heart of his supposed crimes was publishing correct budget numbers.
For decades, the term “Greek statistics” had been a punchline. Official data were massaged so that the government could claim it was meeting European Union fiscal commitments and retain access to international capital markets. The Greek statistical service, which was controlled by whatever party held power, had taken to reverse-engineering its official budget data. That is, it would choose a final number at the outset and then backfill the assumptions necessary to produce that result. (This technique is not unique to the Greek government, of course.)
To give you a sense of the brazenness of this fiscal fraud: The 2009 Greek budget deficit was initially forecast to be just 3.7 percent of the country’s economy. If true, this would have been astonishingly low. Not only because it followed a once-in-a-century, economy-and-budget-shredding global financial crisis; it also would have meant that Greece — a fiscal basket case that has been in default half of the years since it achieved independence — somehow had one of the tiniest budget deficits in Europe.
It turned out that this official number was off, by a factor of four. The real deficit that year, as a share of gross domestic product, was revised upward several times, finally landing at 15.4 percent.
And the person who oversaw that final, politically inconvenient budget revision? You guessed it: Andreas Georgiou.
In August 2010, Georgiou was appointed president of a newly reorganized — now independent — national statistics agency. A trained economist, he was tasked with bringing the country’s official data in line with modern statistical principles.
Not everyone was on board.
Shortly after Georgiou’s arrival, his email was hacked; then, the statistics agency’s board (which included the alleged hacker) demanded to vote on any revised deficit numbers before their transmission to the E.U.’s statistical office. Georgiou refused, as this would have violated the European Statistics Code of Practice, and therefore both Greek and European law.
He submitted the numbers as they were. He expected some pushback, he said in a recent interview, but nothing like what was to come.
Over subsequent months and years, the public grew angrier about the country’s ongoing economic depression. The crisis long pre-dated Georgiou’s tenure, but professional rivals and politicians decided to scapegoat him anyway. They claimed he had “inflated” the deficit to “trap” Greece into accepting bigger international bailouts, with harsher conditions, than it needed.
Attacks against him borrowed from a familiar demagogic playbook, emphasizing his technocratic background and supposedly treasonous allegiances. Politicians accused him of being a “Trojan horse” for international interests that wanted to place Greece under “foreign occupation.”
It didn’t matter that his numbers were repeatedly validated by outside experts. Or that the deficit his agency calculated precisely matched the net amount Greece borrowed from capital markets in 2009.
The government prosecuted, cleared and re-prosecuted him anyway, for causing “extraordinary damage” to the Greek state and for “violation of duty.” In one case, he was given a suspended prison sentence of two years. Two criminal investigations remain open.
This month he’ll appeal a court decision involving having supposedly committed “simple” slander when he publicly defended his agency’s numbers; in layman’s terms, a court said he made statements that were true but that hurt someone’s reputation. (Yes, this is an actual crime in Greece.) If his appeal fails, he’ll be forced to pay and publicly apologize to his predecessor. This means the person who restored the credibility of Greek statistics will have to apologize to a person who had been fudging the data.
In the years since Georgiou’s persecution and prosecutions began, the Greek government has changed hands multiple times. In fact, a newly elected prime minister will visit the White House next week. So far, though, those in power have continued to foment or tolerate the scapegoating of civil servants, and refused to help Georgiou clear his name.