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Greece Wiretapping Scandal Might Cause EU Probe

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The conservative government in Greece is under pressure to investigate wiretapping allegations. Credit: European Parliament CC BY 2.0

The European Commission has intervened in the wiretapping scandal in Greece urging the government to investigate the revelations.

The European Commission wants embattled Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, trying to distance himself from revelations that a rival politician and journalist were being surveilled, to speed up an investigation into how things played out.

Mitsotakis said he was not informed that the phone of PASOK Socialist leader Nikos Androulakis, who resurrected a party once the major rival to the ruling New Democracy, was bugged so as to allow for his conversations to be tapped. Mitsotakis certifies that he would have otherwise intervened had he known.

The eavesdropping was revealed after Androulakis, a Member of the European Parliament, said analysts there discovered an attempt to install Predator spyware on his cell phone in September 2021, three months before he took over PASOK.

Predator can unlock access to encrypted messages and activate cameras and microphones on mobile devices, allowing hackers access to passwords and text and voice messages, compromising journalists and sources, too.

Anitta Hipper, a European Commission spokeswoman, said that “any attempt by national security services to illegally access data of citizens, including journalists and political opponents, if confirmed, is unacceptable,” and should be probed.

Mitsotakis, under pressure from rivals, including the former ruling SYRIZA who likened the scandal to Watergate, said the Greek Parliament would return early on August 22nd from a summer recess and agreed on an investigation.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said there should be an inquiry, but it wasn’t determined if it would be through Parliament—controlled by the government—or an independent panel.

She said that protecting the right to privacy was “a fundamental condition of a democratic and liberal society” and “requires the immediate and full clarification of the wiretapping case,” reported Reuters.

Cypriot Member of the European Parliament George Georgiou, Vice-Chair of a committee looking into the use of Pegasus spyware, also proposed that European lawmakers investigate the matter.

Androulakis, who turned to the country’s highest court to find answers, said he believes a text message he received with an attachment, would have, if downloaded, allowed for his phone to be monitored through Predator. The message came from Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP).

His case overshadowed that of financial reporter Thanasis Koukakis, whose phone was infected by the spyware that former EYP Chief Panagiotis Kontoleon admitted the agency installed.

That testimony to a parliamentary committee initiated the scandal and led to Kontoleon and Mitsotakis’ former General-Secretary—his nephew—Grigoris Dimitriadis, resigning under pressure for not informing Mitsotakis.

One of Mitsotakis’ first acts upon ousting SYRIZA out of power after the July 2019 snap elections was to put EYP under his control. However, it wasn’t revealed why he wasn’t told of either the bugging of Androulakis’ phone or the spyware, and he didn’t mention Koukakis.

Greece’s government apology on wiretapping not accepted

“Although everything was done lawfully,” Mitsotakis said, “the National Intelligence Service (EYP) underestimated the political dimension of that particular action. It was formally adequate but politically unacceptable. It should not have happened [and it] undermined citizens’ confidence in national intelligence.”

PASOK is Greece’s third-largest political party and Androulakis, who doubled the party’s popularity, could be a kingmaker in 2023 elections where changes in election laws make it unlikely for a single party to win a Parliamentary majority.

Mitsotakis apologized to Androulakis, who refused the government’s offer to brief him on what happened while SYRIZA leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras said: “Instead of hypocritical apologies and lies, Mr. Mitsotakis should say which other politicians and journalists have been followed.”

That was after Kathimerini said that 15,475 unidentified targets were being bugged through their phones. Kontoleon said Androulakis was monitored “in the national interest” and, supposedly, at the request of Ukrainian and Armenian intelligence services. However, both Ukraine and Armenia denied their requesting such measures.

“This is not a huge and unforgivable mistake,” Tsipras said. “It’s a huge scandal [that represents] the unforgivable arrogance of a regime, of a Prime Minister that thought no one could control him.”

The scandal added to the heat against Mitsotakis after he ruled out early elections. With Greece facing growing provocations from Turkey and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the specter of a spy state under Mitsotakis’ rule has been raised.

While most Greeks are away at their villages or islands in August and the government is concentrating on what could be a record-breaking tourism year, the scandal could fade away into the background unless there are further revelations.

Dimitriadis is trying to quash coverage in what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said amounted to SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuits to chill journalists.

He sued the Reporters United website and journalists Nikolas Leontopoulos and Thodoris Chondrogiannos for writing of his so-called dealings with Intellexa, an Israeli company that sells the Predator spyware created in North Macedonia, which he allegedly sold to Greece—something the government has denied.

Dimitriadis also sued the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton (EfSyn) for its story about the Predator scandal as well as Koukakis, demanding the withdrawal of a tweet he posted about the piece.

“The decision to sue Thanasis Koukakis and the journalists who investigated the surveillance to which he was subjected instead of trying to shed light on the surveillance itself is deplorable,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk.

Androulakis said that he “never expected the Greek government to put [him] under surveillance with the darkest [of] practices,” the Associated Press reported.

He added that “it is our democratic duty to protect the human rights and freedoms of Greek citizens. Today is a moment of truth for those whose arrogance and sense of impunity make them capable of anything.”

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