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Politics

New Democracy Abstains, Greek Lawmakers OK Spyware Probe

ATHENS – The lawmakers of the ruling New Democracy party didn’t take a stand – voting present – but Greece’s Parliament approved an investigation into revelations the country’s spy service tapped the phones of a party leader and financial journalist and whether it used Predator spyware.

That came after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, his government rocked by the scandal, went on the offensive to defend the National Intelligence Service (EYP) which tapped the phones of 15,475 people.

That was said done “in the national interest” without specifying why they  were being tracked and their names not given, apart from PASOK Socialist leader Nikos Androulakis and reporter Thanasis Koukakis.

While EYP’s chief reports directly to him, Mitsotakis said in these cases he didn’t – leading to the ouster of former director Panagiotis Konteoleon and the Premier’s former General-Secretary, his nephew Grigoris Dimitriadis.

He said while the surveillance of Androuakis, also a Member of the European Parliament, was legal that it was wrong but he hasn’t talked about Koukakis, who was said to be looking to Mitsotakis’ ties to business.

While 157 of New Democracy’s lawmakers who were in the chamber abstained, saying it was because they wanted any investigation to go back further when the party wasn’t in power, the 142 from other parties voted for the probe.

That will be done by a parliamentary committee that includes members from the parties in the body which is controlled by New Democracy’s majority and it wasn’t said when it would be set up.

As the Conservatives will have a majority on the panel they can quash any recommendations that go against the government or would seem to further embarrass Mitsotakis, who said he will reform EYP.

The committee will also examine allegations that phones belonging to officials in Greece’s Communist party were tapped in 2016, under the previous ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, whose leader Alexis Tsipras said Mitsotakis was running a deep spy state.

The current scandal broke after revelations that Androulakis, a European Parliament member and head of Greece’s third-largest political party, was put under surveillance for three months in 2021 when he was running for his PASOK party’s leadership.

Mitsotakis, who faces reelection next year, has insisted he was unaware of what he has called the legal wiretapping of Androulakis but said he would not have approved it.

IN THE POLITICAL INTEREST?

He has not revealed the reasons for Androulakis being under surveillance, citing national security concerns, drawing fire from the PASOK Socialist leader who wanted to know if he was considered a threat and why.

It was to a highly charged mood as the Parliament, brought back early from a summer recess, debated a phone-tapping scandal whose exposure of practices last associated with military rule has shocked the nation and been met with stunned disbelief at the heart of the European Union.

That’s despite reports that Pegasus Spyware – whose use is being investigated by a European Parliament panel – has been used to track some heads of state, including in France and Spain.

“When I found out, I did not hesitate to say it was wrong,” Mitsotakis told MPs as he sought to explain how Androulakis had been wiretapped by EYP – the national intelligence service – which is under his control.

“But any initiative to remedy the slip-up should not undermine EYP’s important work,” he said, saying that the country needs clandestine services to protect its national security, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

He dismissed calls from Tsipras to resign as they are set to square off in mid-2023 in a rematch of the July, 2019 snap elections that saw Mitsotakis rout his rival, but this time Androulakis could be a kingmaker.

PASOK has doubled its popularity since Androulakis took over and election law changes made by SYRIZA while in power will take away a 50-seat bonus in Parliament for the winner of a first round.

That’s seen as a certainty, with either a second election needed or a coalition set up – that could see odd fellows like New Democracy pairing itself with rivals as happened when the Conservatives in an earlier government brought in PASOK as a junior partner.

Tspiras, who could he caught in a dilemma if it’s revealed he knew about any previous spying on other parties, thundered to Mitsotakis that, “You gave the order for (EYP) to follow him,” referring to Androulakis and essentially calling the Premier a liar.

“You wanted to have absolute control over developments in the third (biggest) party so as to ensure control over political developments ahead of a new parliamentary law of proportional representation which requires governments of coalition,” said Tsipras, the paper reported.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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