Minister welcomes statistics probe as chance for debate

Former Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou has welcomed an imminent parliamentary probe into claims that Greece?s 2009 public deficit figure was fiddled as a great opportunity to discuss the state of public finances when the PASOK government took over in October 2009.

Papaconstantinou, who is now environment minister, faces the possibility of being investigated in connection to allegations by former employees of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) that the deficit was inflated to justify a bailout and tough austerity measures. The minister dismissed the claims.

?The unreliability of ELSTAT?s data in previous years led the previous government to make it more independent,? said Papaconstantinou. ?ELSTAT is an independent agency and its statistics have been rubber stamped.

?This will be a good chance for Parliament to discuss the size of the deficit that we inherited [from the previous New Democracy government] and the conditions that shaped it. The government and I will prove all the evidence possible to ensure that the truth is not criminalized.?

MPs will be asked to probe whether former Prime Minister George Papandreou and Papaconstantinou were guilty in any way, in keeping with the law that requires any allegations of wrongdoing by ministers to be investigated by Parliament.

Financial prosecutor Grigoris Peponis delivered the results of his initial probe into the alleged wrongdoing to the Supreme Court on January 20.

The investigation was launched following allegations made last September by Zoe Georganta, a former employee of ELSTAT.

Shortly after her dismissal from ELSTAT, Georganta claimed that 2009 deficit data had been artificially inflated from around 12-13 percent to 15.4 percent of gross domestic product.

She maintained that European officials wanted Greece to show a greater deficit than Ireland in order to justify application for a rescue package and the corresponding austerity measures.