Exclusive: Europeans tried to block IMF debt report on Greece: sources

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Euro zone countries tried in vain to stop the IMF publishing a gloomy analysis of Greece's debt burden which the leftist government says vindicates its call to voters to reject bailout terms, sources familiar with the situation said on Friday.

The document released in Washington on Thursday said Greece's public finances will not be sustainable without substantial debt relief, possibly including write-offs by European partners of loans guaranteed by taxpayers.

It also said Greece will need at least 50 billion euros in additional aid over the next three years to keep itself afloat.

Publication of the draft Debt Sustainability Analysis laid bare a dispute between Brussels and the Washington-based global lender that has been simmering behind closed doors for months.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cited the report in a televised appeal to voters on Friday to say 'No' to the proposed austerity terms, which have anyway expired since talks broke down and Athens defaulted on an IMF loan this week.

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Exclusive: Europeans tried to block IMF debt report on Greece: sources
ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 03: Pensioners without ATM cards wait in queue outside a bank branch to withdraw money from their pension funds on July 03, 2015 in Athens, Greece. (Photo by Salih Baran/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Pensioners wait outside a closed branch of the Greek National bank in Thessaloniki on June 29, 2015 as Greece ordered its banks to shut for one week and imposed capital controls today, sending markets tumbling after its citizens emptied ATMs on the eve of a potentially disastrous default. In a ray of hope, creditors left the door open to Greece for a last-ditch debt deal, in order to try and avert a dangerous default that could spark a Greek eurozone exit and raise serious questions about the future of the European Union. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 29: People wait in line to withdraw 60 euros from an ATM after Greece closed its banks on June 29, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Greece closed its banks and imposed capital controls on Sunday to monitor the growing strains on its crippled financial system, bringing the prospect of being forced out of the euro into plain sight. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
A man withdraws the withdrawal limit of 60 euros at an ATM machine in Thessaloniki on June 29, 2015 as Greece ordered its banks to shut for one week and imposed capital controls today, sending markets tumbling after its citizens emptied ATMs on the eve of a potentially disastrous default. In a ray of hope, creditors left the door open to Greece for a last-ditch debt deal, in order to try and avert a dangerous default that could spark a Greek eurozone exit and raise serious questions about the future of the European Union. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pensioners queue outside a closed branch of the Greek National bank in Thessaloniki on June 29, 2015 as Greece ordered its banks to shut for one week and imposed capital controls today, sending markets tumbling after its citizens emptied ATMs on the eve of a potentially disastrous default. In a ray of hope, creditors left the door open to Greece for a last-ditch debt deal, in order to try and avert a dangerous default that could spark a Greek eurozone exit and raise serious questions about the future of the European Union. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Foreign anti-EU activists protest in front of the Greek parliament in Athens, during a demonstration calling for 'NO' at referendum and for Greece's exit from the eurozone on June 28, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stunned Europe late Friday with a surprise call for a July 5 referendum on the latest cash-for-reforms package and advised voters against backing a deal that he said spelled further 'humiliation'..AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 28: People wait in a queue in front of a bank's ATM to withdraw their cash in Athens, Greece on June 28, 2015. Greeks are anxious about whether the European Central Bank will increase the emergency liquidity assistance, banks can draw on from the country's central bank or not. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 21: Protesters attend an anti-austerity pro-government rally in front of the parliament building on June 21, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Greece's leftwing government believes it can reach a deal with its creditors on Monday. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 21: Greek Presidential Guard conducts his ceremonial march as protesters attend an anti-austerity pro-government rally in front of the parliament building on June 21, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Greece's leftwing government believes it can reach a deal with its creditors on Monday. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 21: Protesters attend an anti-austerity pro-government rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece, June 21, 2015. Greece's leftwing government believes it can reach a deal with its creditors on Monday. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 3: A Greek flag billows in the wind on the Acropolis Hill on June 3, 2015, in Athens, Greece. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to be presented with the international creditors' plan of tough economic reforms for Greece in order to unlock 7.2 billion Euros of rescue loans later today. It is unclear whether Greece will accept the offer, as Tsipras has previously called for his own proposals to be considered by the creditors (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: View of the index in the Hellenic Exchange office on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15:.Woman pass by Hellenic Exchange office in Athens on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images))
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: View of the index in the Hellenic Exchange office on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
A woman walks past Bank of Greece headquarters in central Athens on June 15, 2015. Athens will patiently wait until its creditors become realistic, Greece's premier said, a day after last-ditch talks between the two sides collapsed and raised fears that Athens would default and exit the eurozone. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: Locals visit the Green market on June 15 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: Pensioners play backgammon in front of closed shop on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: Women buy on cheep clothing at a flea market on June 15 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
A man walks past graffiti featuring the word 'Time' but using the Euro sign in place of the letter 'e'on a wall in Athens on June 15, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insisted in an oped piece in a Greek newspaper on June 15, 2015 that Athens would 'wait patiently' until the International Monetary Fund and the European Union became 'more realistic', a day after last-ditch talks between the two sides collapsed, bringing the threat of a Greek exit from the euro closer than ever. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An elderly men stands outside the Athens central market on June 15, 2015. Athens will patiently wait until its creditors become realistic, Greece's premier said, a day after last-ditch talks between the two sides collapsed and raised fears that Athens would default and exit the eurozone. AFP PHOTO/ Louisa Gouliamaki (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: Local people pass by graffiti that says 'Greece vs Everybody' on June 15, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The European Commission has said that Greece and its international creditors need to come to an agreement within the next 2 weeks to avoid a possible default, after weekend talks collapsed. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
People read newspaper's headlines in central Athens on June 15, 2015. Athens will patiently wait until its creditors become realistic, Greece's premier said, a day after last-ditch talks between the two sides collapsed and raised fears that Athens would default and exit the eurozone. AFP PHOTO/ Louisa Gouliamaki (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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It was not clear whether an arcane IMF document would influence a cliffhanger poll in which Greece's future in the euro zone is at stake with banks closed, cash withdrawals rationed and commerce seizing up.

"Yesterday an event of major political importance happened," Tsipras said. "The IMF published a report on Greece's economy which is a great vindication for the Greek government as it confirms the obvious - that Greek debt is not sustainable."

At a meeting on the International Monetary Fund's board on Wednesday, European members questioned the timing of the report which IMF management proposed at short notice releasing three days before Sunday's crucial referendum that may determine the country's future in the euro zone, the sources said.

There was no vote but the Europeans were heavily outnumbered and the United States, the strongest voice in the IMF, was in favor of publication, the sources said.

The Europeans were also concerned that the report could distract attention from a view they share with the IMF that the Tsipras government, in the five months since it was elected, has wrecked a fragile economy that was just starting to recover.

"It wasn't an easy decision," an IMF source involved in the debate over publication said. "We are not living in an ivory tower here. But the EU has to understand that not everything can be decided based on their own imperatives."

The board had considered all arguments, including the risk that the document would be politicized, but the prevailing view was that all the evidence and figures should be laid out transparently before the referendum.

"Facts are stubborn. You can't hide the facts because they may be exploited," the IMF source said.

IMF spokeswoman Angela Gaviria declined comment on this report.

POLITICALLY ANATHEMA

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said in a blog post the IMF had upheld the Syriza party government's contention for the last five months that debt relief should be at the center of the negotiations.

"Puzzlingly, all this fine research by the good people at the IMF suddenly evaporates when IMF functionaries coalesce with their ECB and the European Commission colleagues in order to impose upon our government their chosen policies," he wrote.

The IMF argues that Greece's debt burden of nearly 185 percent of gross domestic product can only be made sustainable if the euro zone provides considerable extra financing through a mixture of new loans and a debt restructuring.

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Exclusive: Europeans tried to block IMF debt report on Greece: sources
A pedestrian walks past an electronic stock board displaying the figure of the Nikkei 225 Stock Average, top right, outside a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, June 29, 2015. Japanese stocks fell and the yen strengthened as Greece moved to avert the collapse of its financial system after aid talks with creditors fell apart, raising the risk it could be forced to exit the euro zone. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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This is politically anathema in Germany, the biggest creditor country, and most other euro zone states, where no leader wants to explain to taxpayers that the money they lent to Athens will never be coming back.

Euro zone governments insisted in five months of talks this year that a lengthening of loan maturities and a reduction in interest rates would only be considered after Greece had implemented its commitments under a 2012 bailout deal, including painful structural reforms and public spending cuts.

In Brussels, the way the IMF communicated the findings was seen as confusing, misleading and politically unhelpful.

The European Commission had produced its own debt sustainability analysis, based partially on IMF data, which is less pessimistic in its scenarios and is one of the documents mentioned on the Greek referendum ballot paper.

Diplomats said the IMF's publication of the study was a way of making clear it would only be part of any future loan pact with Greece if the Europeans included debt relief in the mix.

Germany and its north European allies have said the IMF's presence is indispensable both to win parliamentary backing for aid for any euro zone partner, and to keep the European institutions honest. Berlin suspects the European Commission of being too soft on Greek efforts to wriggle out of reforms of pensions, taxation, public sector wages and labor law.

The European Central Bank, the third partner in what used to be called the "troika" of bailout enforcers, is also keen to keep the IMF involved.

(Additional reporting by David Chance in Washington; editing by Anna Willard)

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