ECB chief sidesteps comment on IMF's Greek bailout critique

FRANKFURT (AFP) - European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi sidestepped commenting on criticisms by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the handling of Greece's first debt bailout, saying it was difficult to judge decisions and actions taken four years ago.

"It's very hard to pass ex-post judgement about things that happened four years ago," Mr Draghi told a news conference here.

In a report, the IMF admitted to significant failures in Greece's first debt bailout in 2010, but also put much of the blame on its Greek and European partners, saying they were unprepared for the crisis and the harsh choices - including the debt restructuring - that may have made the first bailout work better.

Mr Draghi noted that the IMF had not criticised the ECB specifically, but admitted he had not read the report yet.

"If this paper identifies reasons for mistakes, we have to take them into account in future," he said.

But he insisted that the important thing at present was to recognise the "extraordinary progress" Greece had made in the meantime.

"A few years ago it would have been unthinkable," he said.

In Brussels, the European Commission said it "fundamentally disagreed" with the IMF's view that Greece's massive debt burden should have been restructured at the outset, instead of waiting until 2012.

At the same time, the IMF's criticism of efforts to radically reform the Greek economy so as to put in on a path back to growth were "plainly wrong and unfounded", said commission spokesman Simon O'Connor.

The IMF helped bail out Greece as part of a "troika" with the European Union and the ECB in 2010, and then when that programme failed, again in 2012.

The second rescue, besides much increased aid in exchange for a stinging austerity package, also obliged private-sector creditors to take huge losses, thereby slashing Greece's debt burden by more than a 100 billion euros (S$164 billion).