In a press release on Friday, former finance minister George Papaconstantinou denied that Greece's independent statistical authority ELSTAT had been pressured into artificially bumping up the size of Greece's public deficit for 2009 by including spending by public utilities and companies.
"Unfortunately for all of us, Greece's deficit in 2009 was finally 15.4 percent of GDP, as officially announced by ELSTAT and Eurostat," stressed Papaconstantinou, who is now serving as minister for the environment, energy and climate change.
The accusation had been levelled by former ELSTAT board member Prof. Zoi Georganta, in an statements to a private radio station on Thursday, while her claims were also published by the newspaper "Eleftherotypia" on Friday. Georganta had earlier sent letters to the political parties in Parliament, making the same claims.
The entire ELSTAT board bar its chairman, including Georganta, were abruptly fired by Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos in a surprise decision on Thursday.
In a question put to the finance minister, Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) MP Dimitris Papadimoulis questions the reasons for his decision to fire six of the seven members of ELSTAT's board, noting that the finance minister did not have the power to appoint the board members of the independent authority, who were chosen by a majority vote of the conference of Parliament presidents following a public proclamation.
He also noted that Georganta had reported that the board had essentially be inactive for months and that the size of the deficit announced by ELSTAT in 2009 was not the real figure.
In Eleftherotypia, Georganta is quoted as saying that "the '09 deficit was artificially enlarged so that it appeared that the country had the highest deficit in all Europe, even than that of Ireland which was 14 percent, in order to justify all the harsh measures against the country. And we presented to Eurostat [a public deficit of] 15.4 percent".
He asked Venizelos to reply on whether the government intended to investigate Georganta's claims and whether ELSTAT's entire board will be summoned before the Parliamentary Committee for Economic Affairs when this convenes next Tuesday so that Parliament may be briefed.
In statements to a radio station on Friday, Papadimoulis noted that the finance minister's amendment firing the ELSTAT board, which was convened as an independent authority by his PASOK predecessor Papaconstantinou, was an act of "extreme autocracy that raises issues of legality".
He pointed out that ELSTAT had been touted as an independent authority precisely so as to stop the ability of any given government to "cook the books" and tweak economic figures. He claimed the decision was similar to Venizelos' decision to oust the head of the Parliament's budget office after she unveiled figures that did not suit the government.
Papadimoulis stressed that the entire board should be called before Parliament's Economic Affairs Committee and not just the sole remaining member as a "matter of credibility".
Responding to the furore created by Georganta's claims, Papaconstantinou underlined that the revision of financial figures in 2010 was carried out in close cooperation with Eurostat and using the exact same methodology as all other European countries.
"Let us appreciate the dire state that the country found itself in, instead of looking for cheap and easy, conspiracy-theory type excuses for the absolute fiscal derailment we experienced and the repercussions of the choices of New Democracy governments," he said.
According to Papaconstantinou, it was the previous ND government that had hidden Greece's true economic figures, leading to a collapse in Greece's credibility.
The revision carried out under PASOK helped lift all reservations concerning the accuracy of Greece's figures by November 2010, the environment minister added.
He dismissed the assertions made by Georganta, noting that the seriousness of her claims was summed up in her phrase "we are under German occupation".