Coalition Battle Over ELSTAT Chief

Greece's government has been split over calls by some lawmakers for the head of the country's statistics agency to be ousted.

ATHENS – Greece’s coalition government has been split over calls by a Parliamentary committee for the head of the country’s statistics agency to be ousted.

The PASOK Socialists who are partners in the administration headed by Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras are upset on unrelenting attacks against Andreas Georgiou, who prosecutors had cleared of any alleged wrongdoing in charges he falsified data to force the country to seek an international bailout in 2010.

PASOK, whose leader Evangelos Venizelos is Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister, hit back at a decision by Parliament’s institutions committee to question whether Georgiou, who heads the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) to stay in the job.

Georgiou had pointed out that the data was verified as accurate by the European Union’s statistics board ELSTAT and said the charges were politically motivated and prompted by a disgruntled former worker.

“Some people are intent on bending the truth about their role in leading the economy into a tragic state,” said PASOK MP Panayiotis Rigas, who is a member of the committee but said the panel issued its statement in his absence.

The criticism of Georgiou was prompted by another committee member, New Democracy’s Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who is a close ally of former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

The major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) also said it wanted Georgiou to quit. He is a former official with the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s Troika of international lenders who, in return for bailouts, demanded harsh austerity measures opposed by SYRIZA.

“The President of ELSTAT has to be a personality with gravitas, who has wide approval, who serves the interest of the Greek people and not the desires of creditors and the Troika,” said SYRIZA’s Panayiotis Lafazanis.

The Parliamentary committee supported a recent judicial decision to launch a new probe into Georgiou, an internationally-respected American-trained economist, inflated Greece’s 2009 public deficit figure.

The committee said it is “troubled” by the fact that Georgiou remains in charge of ELSTAT even though he faces criminal charges that are still pending even though prosecutors said there’s no evidence he did anything wrong.

The MPs also were unhappy that Georgiou blasted the court for continuing a probe after investigators said it should be dropped.

Georgiou said the Council of Appeals Court decision sent a “clear message that anyone who dares to enforce European regulations … will be dragged to court under the constant threat of having his personal freedom denied or facing unbearable financial consequences.”

Georgiou argued that a new probe into his actions would serve to cover up the possible responsibilities of political and public figures for Greece’s fiscal crisis that began to develop in 2009.

Karamanlis’ government was accused of lying about the state of the economy as it handed over power to then PASOK leader George Papandreou that year.