PM Kiriakos Mitsotakis. (Photo by Vasilis Rebapis/EUROKINISSI)
ATHENS – Finding himself caught in a burgeoning scandal, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Aug. 8 will respond over a case of a journalist’s phone stalled with spyware and an attempt to put it on the phone of PASOK-KINAL party leader Nicos Androulakis.
Mitsotakis has decided not to wait until after a summer Parliament recess to talk about the incidents which have blown up into daily headlines and led to the resignations of National Intelligence Service (EYP) chief Panagiotis Kontoleon and the Premier’s Secretary-General Grigoris Dimitriadis – Mitsotakis’ nephew.
Androulakis, also a Member of the European Parliament has gone to the country’s highest court in a suit aimed at who was behind the bugging attempt after the phone of investigative reporter Thanasis Koukakis was bugged.
It was done with Predator spyware made in North Macedonia, the company which manufactures it having been acquired by an Israeli businessman specializing in the product, who moved his headquarters from Cyprus to Athens.
Kontoleon reports directly to Mitsotakis – under a measure that was the first one signed by the Prime Minister when he took office – and Dimitriadis was said to be the liaison between EYP and the Premier’s office.
New Democracy government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said that the government wasn’t behind the spy cases and the Premier’s office said he was never told about it but Androulakis wants more answers.
The PASOK-KINAL chief wants a parliamentary probe although New Democracy controls the body even as the major rival SYRIZA has turned up the heat on the government with elections coming in mid-2023.
In his letter of resignation, Kontoleon cited “oversights in the process of statutory inspection” and said he quit following mistaken actions found during lawful wiretapping procedures,” Mitsotakis’ office said.
But questions remain, especially after Kontoleon said EYP was asked by the intelligence services of Ukraine and Armenia to bug Androulakis because of his position on a European Parliament committee about relations with China.
The former EYP chief also said that the agency was able to lift the phone secrecy of 15,700 people in Greece without identifying who the others were nor why they too were being surveilled in what he said was “legal wiretapping.”
Androulakis wants a committee of inquiry to look into attempts to hack his phone which drew more attention to the use of spyware after Koukakis’ case, in which the malware was installed, drew little attention.
“It is the time for truth and justice for those whose arrogance and sense of impunity make them capable of anything,” he said, accusing Mitsotakis and his government of “exposing the country internationally.”
He said since filing a complaint after European Parliament analysts found the hacking attempt that, “The government and Prime Minister’s office have systematically tried to downplay the issue with a slew of publications and fake news, some of it even coming from the government spokesperson.”
After Kontoleon and Dimitriadis quit, Androulakis stepped up the pressure on Mitsotakis’ besieged government, saying that, “The veil of silence and discredit with which they tried to cover such a serious case is collapsing.”
He said it was “unacceptable” for the intelligence agency of a European democracy “that reports directly to the prime minister” to try to spy on him, said the newspaper, which leans toward New Democracy.
Oikonomou said the government hopes that Androulakis, who he said spurned offers of briefings, will respond and attend the sessions in person. “Answers that will leave no room for arbitrary conclusions and conspiracy theories,” he said.
Androulakis, who resurrected the dormant center-left party and has doubled its popularity since taking its leadership in December, 2021, said the spy attempt was made three months before than.
He said that “Itt is the time for truth and justice for those whose arrogance and sense of impunity make them capable of anything.”
Kathimerini also said that Mitsotakis was informed by EYP that it had previously recorded the telephone communications of Androulakis “during lawful wiretapping procedures,” drawing the Premier’s fury.
The report said EYP acted on its own although it’s supposed to report to Mitsotakis, which has put the spotlight on the government a few weeks after Mitsotakis ruled out early elections.
For whatever reason, neither Kontoleon nor Dimitriadis were said to have thought that Mitsotakis should know about the surveillance even though the use of more sophisticated Pegasus spyware has made the issue international.
The paper said they only decided to tell him after information requested by the Communications Privacy Authority (CSA) revealed that phone secrecy had been lifted for Androulakis.
“Given everything that had gone on before, you can’t just not mention such a procedure,” said aides for Mitsotakis about him allegedly not knowing, which ironically could draw criticism for him being left out of the loop.
A government official not named told the paper that Dimitriadis’ resignation was “related to the toxic climate that has developed around him. In no case does it have anything to do with Predator (spyware), to which neither he nor the government are in any way connected, as has been categorically stated,” suggesting a coincidence.
“I never expected the Greek government to put me under surveillance with the darkest practices,” Androulakis said after the resignations that failed to quell the growing denouncements.
“Revealing who is behind such sick practices and for whom they are acting is not a personal matter. It is my democratic duty,” Androulakis had said at the time,” the New York Times reported.
In April, Koukakis, who covers financial news. said he had been notified by digital rights group Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto that his phone had been the target of surveillance by Predator software from July to September 2021.
The Committee to Protect Journalists had called for a “swift and thorough investigation … (to) determine who orchestrated that monitoring, and hold them to account,” but it wasn’t done.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)
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