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Greece: 'full trust' in deficit stats during bailout years

Associated Press Associated Press 1/09/2016 By DEREK GATOPOULOS, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Under growing international pressure, Greece's left-wing government on Thursday said it has "full trust" in the budget deficit data issued by the country's independent statistics authority, whose former director faces trial for allegedly inflating the figures.

Speaking in parliament, Deputy Finance Minister George Chouliarakis said the government did not dispute the data used during three successive bailouts involving eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Former statistics agency director Andreas Georgiou, who previously worked at the IMF, faces trial over claims by two Greek colleagues that the deficit figures were deliberately inflated to make Greece dependent on bailout loans.

Last week, the European Union's executive Commission urged Greece to publicly back the data produced during Georgiou's leadership between 2010 and 2015.

"I would like to say in the clearest possible way that the Greek government has full trust in the data of the Greek Statistical Authority and the (EU statistics agency) Eurostat," Chouliarakis said. "The government guarantees and defends the independence of the (Greek) agency."

His remarks come in sharp contrast to reaction last week from government officials to the Commission, which sent a letter to the Greek government backing Georgiou.

Dimitris Papangelopoulos, the deputy justice minister, had described the letter as a "direct violation of the Greek constitution and European conventions."

Greece is struggling to keep up with bailout reforms demanded by creditors in exchange for continued loan payouts, and is hoping to start talks by the end of the year for more lenient debt repayment terms.

"The next five months will be decisive for the course of the debt," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Thursday at a meeting with business leaders from northern Greece. "That will mark a new era after six years of very serious difficulties."

The national debt is set to peak this year at a whopping 182.8 percent of gross domestic product, according to EU Commission estimates.

Monitors from the EU Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank are due in Athens this month for an assessment of progress on Greece's bailout commitments, which are likely to include a new round of austerity measures.

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