The Greek government has quickly found itself embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal perpetrated against its political opposition.
On Monday, August 8th, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the centre-right New Democracy party admitted in a televised public address that the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP) had tapped the phone of Nikos Androulakis, head of the socialist PASOK-Movement for Change party. Mitsotakis said the surveillance had lasted for about three months starting in September 2021, a duration of time that coincided with Androulakis’ party’s internal leadership race, which he won.
In his speech to the nation, Mitsotakis attempted damage control by calling the phone-tapping legal, but wrong, though he did not explain the EYP’s motive for the surveillance. He defended himself, as well, stating that he had no personal knowledge of the surveillance.
“What happened was wrong, I was not aware of it, and I would not have allowed it,” he told his country.
“Apart from the fact that everything was done lawfully, EYP underestimated the political dimension of this particular case,” the Greek PM added, admitting that the move “was formally adequate, but politically unacceptable.”
The intelligence services’ responded to the office of the prime minister.
Secretary General of the prime minister, Grigoris Dimitriadis, who was directly responsible for EYP and is Mitsotakis’ nephew, took the political fall by resigning. EYP chief Panagiotis Kontoleon was also removed.
Androulakis, who is also a member of the European Parliament, filed a complaint with the Supreme Court Prosecutors’ Office at the end of July, claiming illegal tapping of his personal cell phone. The formal complaint followed a scan done by the EU parliament on his private mobile at the end of June, which found that Androulakis had been sent a link 21 September 2021 that would have infected his phone with the invasive spyware Predator had he clicked on it, which he did not. Such monitoring is now offered as part of Parliament’s investigation of the use of invasive surveillance software by EU member states by the PEGA committee.
On August 3rd, the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE) launched an investigation and quickly discovered that Vasiliki Vlachou, the prosecutor who deals with requests from EYP, had signed off on a request from the intelligence service to tap Androulakis’ mobile phone. Greece, though, denies possessing Predator software.
Nevertheless, a Google report cites Greece as one of several “government-backed actors” that has “likely” purchased spy-ware, such as Predator, for the purpose of hacking mobile phones. A Reporters United report also links Mitsotakis’ now former chief of staff, Grigoris Dimitriadis, to the company behind the Predator spyware.
In the days between the initial revelations of the spying and the prime minister’s public statements, Greek media had cited government sources offering two motives for the surveillance on Androulakis. Intelligence sources allegedly claimed that the monitoring was done at the request of the Ukrainian and Armenian intelligence services, while other government sources attributed it to Androulakis’ sitting on a European Parliament committee dealing with EU trade relations with China.
Neither of these explanations were mentioned in the prime minister’s public statements.
Androulakis is calling on the government to make public the reason for spying on him.
“Mr. Mitsotakis, I request that the reason for my surveillance by EYP, which you have the audacity to characterise as legitimate … be made public immediately,” Androulakis said in a written statement.
“I will not accept any cover-up,” he added. “The prime minister today tried to buy time. But time is now counting against him. Soon he will be confronted with the truth.”
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou is calling for a parliamentary investigation, which the government says it would support. Mitsotakis also promised a review and reform of the intelligence service for greater transparency.
Cypriot MEP George Georgiou, vice-chair of the EU’s PEGA committee investigating malware surveillance software, has also proposed that the committee undertake a mission to Greece to investigate the allegations. MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, rapporteur of the parliament’s PEGA committee, is also calling on EU agencies such as Europol to get involved. Androulakis and a Greek journalist, Thanasis Koukakis, who has also alleged that the government spied on him with Predator, are both scheduled to testify to the PEGA committee.
The Greek parliament will hold a special debate on August 22nd to discuss the scandal.
Elections are scheduled for July 2023, but the question is whether the current government will survive until then.