Unfortunately, in Greece statistics is a combat sport

The Financial Times reports that Andreas Georgiou, the head of the independent Greek statistical agency Elstat, is facing a criminal investigation for allegedly inflating the scale of the country’s fiscal crisis and “acting against the Greek national interest.”

Georgiou, who worked at the International Monetary Fund for 20 years, was appointed in 2010 by agreement with the fund and the European Commission to clean up Greek statistics after years of unreliable reporting by the finance ministry.

The source of the accusations against Georgiou is a former member of the statistical agency’s board who was fired recently.  The specific allegation is that the 2009 deficit was exaggerated by Elstat “so it would become larger than that of Ireland and Greece would be forced to adopt painful austerity measures.”

Two observations:

First, it is a little hard to see what benefit a veteran international civil servant–brought in to clean up the national accounts–would receive by exaggerating the budget deficit.

Second, the charge should serve as a reminder of the importance of accurate economic data for making sound policy decisions.  Although Greece’s economic trouble cannot be laid solely at the feet of fudged books, dishonest statistics contributed to the mess.

It is a difficult to see how prosecuting the guy who is supposedly cleaning up the mess in in Greece’s national interest.