MPs launch their own probe into 2009 statistics

A parliamentary committee on Tuesday launched its own investigation into the reliability of Greece?s 2009 deficit figure, when the size of its fiscal problem was exposed, as the head of the country?s independent statistics service was accused during a judicial probe of asking International Monetary Fund officials to intervene to change the way the body operated.

MPs are investigating how Greece?s public deficit was formed in 2009. The final figure exceeded 15 percent of gross domestic product, whereas it had been projected to reach only a third of that. The new figure emerged after PASOK came to power in November 2009, leading to panic on the markets, unsustainably high borrowing costs for Greece and, ultimately, the creation of the country?s emergency loan package.

New Democracy and the Communist Party are boycotting the committee but this did not deter its members, who sent letters on Tuesday to former EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia and the director-general of the EU?s statistics agency, Eurostat, Walter Radermacher, to ask them to give evidence as part of the probe.

Parliament?s investigation started as the head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), Andreas Georgiou, gave evidence to financial prosecutor Grigoris Peponis in connection to claims made by two former employees that he inflated the 2009 deficit figure to justify the EU-IMF bailout.

Georgiou, who took over at ELSTAT in the summer of 2010, denies any wrongdoing and told Peponis that Eurostat had been expressing concern about the accuracy of Greek statistics for some time before he was put in charge. He said that Eurostat officials visited Greece 10 times between 2009 and 2010 to check on the procedures being used.

He refused to comment on extracts of a leaked e-mail to the head of the IMF team in Greece, Poul Thomsen, that was presented by independent MP Panayiotis Kouroblis. The e-mail indicates that Georgiou asked Thomsen to pressure the Greek government to change the law on ELSTAT?s operating methods because he was having difficulty getting board members to cooperate. Georgiou said he would not comment on the message as it was obtained by someone hacking into his e-mail account.

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