By DEREK GATOPOULOS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A high court in Greece has convicted the country’s former statistics chief to two years in prison for breach of duty, in a politically charged case closely watched by international bailout lenders.
The court issued the suspended sentence for the 57-year-old Andreas Georgiou on Tuesday after finding him guilty of breaching regulations of the National Statistical Authority by failing to inform its governing board about the release of budget deficit data in 2010.
Georgiou, a former executive at the International Monetary Fund, headed the Greek agency between 2010 and 2015. He took charge just months after the country had revised previously misreported budget deficit data and the country was spiraling into financial crisis.
As the new director of the agency, also known as Elstat, he walked into a political firestorm over where the blame lay for the bad data and whether the new agency had indeed become independent.
But European Union officials have repeatedly defended Georgiou, arguing that his leadership was key to the country’s ability to provide reliable fiscal statistics.
In the ruling, Georgiou was cleared on two more serious charges, including an allegation that he continued to be employed by the IMF early in his tenure at the Greek agency.
He was not present at the hearing in Athens, remaining at his home in the United States, according to lawyer Giorgos Stefanakis, who led his defense and described the ruling as a victory for his client.
“It’s like being charged for a deadly traffic accident and being convicted for failing to renew your driver’s license … It is a resounding victory for Mr. Georgiou,” he told the AP, adding that he advised his client to appeal the conviction at Greece’s Supreme Court.
“We are very pleased with today’s result because he was cleared on the serious charges,” Stefanakis said.
Greece is currently in its third consecutive bailout program, with other eurozone member states backing rescue loans, while the IMF is monitoring the program along with the EU Commission and European Central Bank.
In Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt made no comment on Tuesday’s court ruling, but added: “We have full confidence in the accuracy and reliability of Elstat data during the period 2010 to 2015 and beyond.”