Athens' deficit is '€20bn' – double official figure

Greece's budget deficit is in reality almost double the amount officially acknowledged by the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and currently stands at about €20bn (£16bn), the German magazine Der Spiegel reported yesterday.

The magazine said it based its figure on a preliminary report from the so-called Troika of experts from the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank who are assessing Greek progress in implementing reforms.

Der Spiegel said Athens would qualify for its next tranche of eurozone bailout funding only if the deficit gap were closed. It said Mr Samaras had been asking creditors whether they would be prepared to write off Greece's debts in order to make up the shortfall.

Mr Samaras has also been lobbying European leaders for more time to implement his €11.5bn savings programme which he needs to complete before obtaining €31.5bn of bailout funding.

Carsten Schneider, a German opposition Social Democrat finance expert, said any debt write-off for Greece could cost German taxpayers at least €8bn.

The Troika has yet to deliver its final verdict, although it had been expected in September. Some German media reports suggested yesterday that it would not complete its findings until November.

Meanwhile, Greece continues to face public protests over the cuts mandated by its international lenders. Last week, unions staged a series of strikes in Athens to demonstrate against the measures that have already led to sharp reductions in government spending, affecting public sector workers.