By Harry Papachristou
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek statistics agency employees on Friday urged their embattled chief to step down pending his trial on charges he artificially inflated the country's deficit to make its debt crisis appear worse.
The ELSTAT agency's head Andreas Georgiou has denied the charges filed this week by a prosecutor against him and two other ELSTAT employees that he produced erroneous 2009 budget figures.
Both the Greek government and the European Union's own Eurostat statistics agency have defended him, saying the deficit was calculated in line with its standards.
But the agency's workers' union said Georgiou could not stay in charge before his name is cleared by the courts.
"There is a moral obligation to remove ELSTAT's chairman until there is a final ruling," the agency's labor union said in a statement.
The case stems from allegations by an ELSTAT employee who was dismissed that Georgiou inflated the deficit numbers as part of a German-led conspiracy to justify harsh austerity measures to accompany an EU/International Monetary Fund bailout.
ELSTAT's labor union, which has clashed before with Georgiou, sided with that view. "It is now proven that recourse to the IMF had been decided all along," it said.
"It is beyond belief that ELSTAT should be led by a man of our creditors... the national statistics agency is an indivisible part of our country's national sovereignty."
Georgiou, a 52-year old veteran IMF statistician, was appointed in 2010 to restore the battered credibility of Greek statistics, a year after the country's debt crisis erupted when the-then government revealed the budget deficit had been grossly underestimated.
In November 2010, shortly after he took over, the 2009 budget deficit was revised again to more than 15 percent of gross domestic product from 13.6 percent, indicating the scale of the fiscal derailment and deepening the country's crisis.
The charges reopen last year's domestic political row on whether wrong fiscal data in late 2009 was to blame for forcing Athens to seek an international bailout that has since swollen to 240 billion euros - the biggest sovereign rescue in history.
Georgiou said in a statement on Thursday he would "continue to apply the law, despite the adversities".
If convicted on charges of breach of faith - a crime that usually applies to those who embezzle or misuse public funds - Georgiou could face at least five years in jail. No date has been set for a trial, and an investigator is due to pursue a further inquiry into the case.
(Reporting by Harry Papachristou)