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Cover-up complaints fly over Greek wire-tapping scandal

Cover-up allegations are dogging a short-lived Greek parliamentary investigation into a state wire-tapping scandal that wraps up next week without providing any real answers. But the case, which has cast an unflattering light on the conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, remains a priority for the European Parliament. The European Union assembly is sending…

A picture taken on September 21, 2022 shows Greek member of European Parliament and president of the Movement for Change (Pasok-Kinal) party Nikos Androulakis answering journalists’ questions in Athens. – MEP Nikos Androulakis, whose phone was tapped by Greek intelligence, on September 30, 2022 denounced an investigation which, according to him, aims to “cover up” a scandal that splatters the Mitsotakis government, according to sources close to his party. (Photo by Giannis PANAGOPOULOS / Eurokinissi / AFP)

Cover-up allegations are dogging a short-lived Greek parliamentary investigation into a state wire-tapping scandal that wraps up next week without providing any real answers.

But the case, which has cast an unflattering light on the conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, remains a priority for the European Parliament.

The European Union assembly is sending a fact-finding delegation in November to interview key witnesses.

The scandal could also impact the formation of a future Greek government, following a general election scheduled for 2023.

The affair broke in July when Nikos Androulakis — a European Parliament lawmaker and leader of the Greek Socialist party (Pasok/Kinal) — filed a legal complaint alleging there had been attempts to tap his mobile phone using illegal spyware known as Predator.

Within days, it emerged that Androulakis had indeed been under surveillance, separately, from the Greek intelligence service before he became leader of Pasok, Greece’s third largest party.

In August, the Greek intelligence service chief, as well as a close aide and nephew to the prime minister, both resigned over the case.

This put the government in a tricky spot. For months it had fended off accusations of wiretapping made by two Greek journalists, one of whom claimed to have been hacked both by Predator and by state intelligence.

The Greek parliament responded by setting up a cross-party committee to investigate the scandal, which has drawn parallels to Watergate.

‘Honesty and transparency’
Mitsotakis has sought to limit the damage, insisting he had not been informed that Androulakis was under surveillance though noting that it was, in any case, technically legal.

But he acknowledged it was “politically unacceptable”.

“It is a serious issue. We have addressed it with honesty and transparency,” he told Bloomberg TV last month.

“We want to make sure we further strengthen the capability of our intelligence services to do their job — but with the necessary oversight that allows people to feel comfortable with the way they operate.”

Critics noted, however, that one of Mitsotakis’ first acts, when he became prime minister in 2019, was to attach the national intelligence service to his personal office.

As for the parliamentary inquiry, opposition MPs said the government-controlled committee failed to summon key witnesses including Mitsotakis himself, his nephew, and intelligence staff that handled the Androulakis wire-tapping case.

“Mr Mitsotakis should be here, sitting in this chair,” Androulakis reportedly told the committee on September 30 during his closed-door testimony, which concluded the witness hearings.

‘Obscuring the truth‘ –
“I regret to see that your committee is doing too little to uncover the truth and much more to obscure it,” the Socialist leader reportedly said.

Opposition parties are now hoping a forthcoming fact-finding visit by members of the European Parliament will shed more light.

The visit on November 2-4 is by members of the cross-party PEGA committee, which investigates the alleged illegal use of spyware surveillance software.

Sophia in’T Veld, a Dutch member of the committee, says she was amazed that several potential key witnesses had not been called to testify.

They include representatives of Israeli surveillance firm Intellexa, which reportedly distributes Predator in Greece.

“I am very surprised to know that their investigation of Intellexa is extremely superficial so far,” the MEP from the centrist Renew Europe group told AFP.

“I also fear that whatever evidence has existed, it has disappeared and this is very serious.

“It is not just about one of the worst violations of someone’s privacy… but also about the impact of this kind of operation on democracy and rule of law.”

The scandal risks casting a shadow over next year’s general election.

Before the incident, Androulakis’ Socialists had been seen as a possible coalition partner for Mitsotakis but that now appears to be off the cards.

In a Sunday Times interview last week, Mitsotakis hinted at ulterior motives behind the wiretap.

“If someone wanted to drive a wedge between me and Pasok, who are our likely coalition partners, they’ve certainly succeeded in doing that,” he said.

An opinion poll last month found that more than six in 10 Greeks thought Mitsotakis had been aware the wiretapping was happening, despite his denials.