Home » A Statistician's View, Departments, Featured

A Statistician’s View: New Year Hopes for Andreas Georgiou as Court Decisions Loom

2 January 2023 1,035 views One Comment

Persecuted former national statistician of Greece awaits human rights court decision, slander appeal hearing

Brian TarranBrian Tarran is the former editor of Significance magazine and current editor of Real World Data Science, a new data science content platform by the Royal Statistical Society.

A new year brings with it hope. Hope that differences will be set aside, wrongs will be made right, and all will be better. Supporters of Andreas Georgiou, the persecuted former national statistician of Greece, have carried that hope for more than a decade, wishing for sense to prevail and vindication to be delivered. They have been disappointed time and again.

Since September 2011, Georgiou has been accused, investigated, tried, and tried again on various charges, all stemming from his time at the helm of ELSTAT, the Greek national statistical office.

Interviewed recently for The Amherst Student, Georgiou said his legal troubles are “always a little bit tiring to the heart to think about.” But 2023 brings with it hope that justice, long denied, is still in reach.

Andreas Georgiou

A Fraught Beginning

Two important court cases are pending currently. One is with the European Court of Human Rights, where Georgiou is arguing that his right to a fair trial was violated. The other is with the Supreme Court of Greece, where he is appealing a lower court’s decision to find him liable for “simple slander.”

The origin of both cases can be traced to August 2010, when Georgiou was made head of ELSTAT. It was a fraught time in Greece. A new government had been elected the previous October and soon faced a sovereign debt crisis. Fiscal deficit projections were much higher than previously reported, and a multi-billion-euro bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund was needed to plug the financial hole.

Greece also needed to repair its statistical credibility. For years, Eurostat—the statistical office of the European Commission—had expressed reservations about the country’s economic figures. In January 2010, for example, a European Commission report was scathing in its assessment of the state of Greek government deficit and debt statistics, identifying severe irregularities, inappropriate governance, political interference, and cases of deliberate misreporting of figures.

According to the report, “The problems faced in Greece go well beyond what can be tackled using only the statistical monitoring tools available to the Commission.” It continued, “The Greek authorities need to tackle resolutely not only the outstanding methodological issues, but also and crucially they need to put in place transparent and reliable working practices …, and to revise the institutional setting in order to guarantee the professional independence and full accountability of the [Greek national statistical institute, formally known as the National Statistical Service of Greece, or] NSSG … .”

Two months later, NSSG was recast as ELSTAT, an independent statistical authority, and four months after that, Georgiou was appointed its president. Part of the work of ELSTAT was to review and correct methods and data. In November 2010, revised deficit figures for 2009 were sent to Eurostat. After that, Georgiou’s legal troubles began.

First came accusations that these revised figures were artificially inflated and Greece was forced to suffer unnecessarily harsh austerity measures as a result. Charges were brought and subsequently dismissed several times by Greek courts, but it wasn’t until 2019 that the case was formally closed.

Georgiou was also charged with violation of duty, chiefly for refusing to allow members of ELSTAT’s board (at the time) to approve the revised deficit numbers prior to their being sent to Eurostat. He was charged, tried, and first acquitted in 2016, but was retried and convicted in 2017 following a successful appeal by prosecutors, landing him with a suspended two-year prison sentence.

The Meaning of Independence

Georgiou has always maintained his innocence, pointing out that the deficit figures released under his watch have been validated multiple times by Eurostat.

As to violation of duty, he insists he acted correctly and in keeping with the principle of professional independence as set forth in the European Statistics Code of Practice. The 2005 version, which was in force at the time, reads: “The head of the statistical authority and, where appropriate, the heads of its statistical bodies have the sole responsibility for deciding on statistical methods, standards and procedures, and on the content and timing of statistical releases.”

In court hearings, Georgiou argued that, as head of ELSTAT, sole responsibility for statistical releases was his—not the board’s—and he was supported in this view by heads of other national statistical institutes, including those of Austria, Finland, France, Ireland, and Italy.

However, the court rejected his defense and this reading of the code, so Georgiou appealed to the Greek Supreme Court, asking for an annulment of the violation of duty conviction, a retrial, and—most crucially—that a pre-trial question be put to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Georgiou’s legal team hoped for the CJEU to weigh in on the correct meaning and interpretation of the European Statistics Code of Practice, but the Greek Supreme Court rejected the appeal without seeking input from the CJEU. This paved the way for Georgiou’s complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. His lawyers argue that his right to a fair trial was violated by the decision not to seek guidance from the CJEU on the correct interpretation of the code.

Since ECHR took up the case in October 2021, both the Greek government and Georgiou have had opportunities to file written arguments. The court’s decision is now imminent.

Speaking the Truth

Georgiou’s other pending case is his appeal against a civil suit that found him liable for “simple slander,” meaning he defamed someone by making true statements. In July 2014, while defending against accusations that deficit figures were artificially inflated, Georgiou issued a press release in which he pointed out that ELSTAT figures had been repeatedly validated, whereas the quality and integrity of figures released in earlier periods had been frequently questioned (e.g., in the January 2010 report of the European Commission).

In response to this, the person previously responsible for Greece’s debt and deficit figures brought a defamation case, and a court found in the complainant’s favor in 2017. The ruling left Georgiou with a €10,000 compensation bill plus interest since 2014 and the complainant’s legal expenses to pay, as well as a requirement to publish text from the court ruling as a public apology in a Greek newspaper with a fine of €200 for every day of delay.

Georgiou sought a court injunction to prevent enforcement of this ruling while he pursued an appeal. That appeal is set to be heard by the Greek Supreme Court this month.

Rights and Values

A positive outcome for Georgiou in both the ECHR case and slander appeal will not mean automatic exoneration. Instead, Georgiou is fighting for the chance to be retried and hoping the trials that follow go in his favor.

This is a hope shared by his supporters, including members of the International Statistical Institute, Royal Statistical Society, and American Statistical Association, who have long called for an end to Georgiou’s persecution and a full exoneration. The US State Department has also repeatedly drawn attention to Georgiou’s plight in its reports on human rights practices in Greece. The Committee on Human Rights of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) is another strong supporter, providing the following statement from its director, Rebecca Everly, to Amstat News:

Like many members of the global scientific and human rights communities, we have long been deeply concerned about the legal proceedings brought against Dr. Georgiou as a result of his commitment to producing quality, independent official statistics consistent with professional standards. The harassment and targeting of scientists as a result of their professional activities is all too common and poses a serious threat to scientific freedom and human rights worldwide. Dr. Georgiou has defended scientific integrity at great personal cost, and his professional work in service to Greece should be commended, not attacked.

However, Georgiou’s concerns run deeper than his own predicament. “Official statistics, themselves, as well as human rights, are on trial,” he says. “The outcome of these legal cases can influence whether or not official statisticians in Greece and the EU, and even around the world, will in the future act with professional independence and produce impartial and accurate statistics. But as these legal cases also point to breaches of human rights, such as denial of fair trial and suppression of freedom of expression, the outcome of these cases also has sobering implications for human rights in the EU and worldwide.”

Further Reading

Archacki, Liam. 2022. By the numbers: Professor fights for justice—alumni profile, Andreas Georgiou ’83. The Amherst Student. October 28. (Link)

2022. Georgiou takes case to European Court of Human Rights. Significance, 19:4-4. (Link)

European Commission. 2010. Report on Greek government deficit and debt statistics. (Link)

The evolution of the statistical service of Greece. (Link)

Langkjær-Bain, Robert. 2017. Trials of a statistician. Significance. 14(4):14–19. (Link)

Advocacy Update: ASA board reissues calls for Georgiou persecution to end, exoneration. (Link)

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

One Comment »

  • Edwin M Truman said:

    Great article about a tragic case. I hope justice will soon be served.

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.