ATHENS – The first leak in what was supposed to be a secret probe into phone tapping and alleged spyware use by Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) produced testimony in which a former chief of the agency reportedly said it was snooping on the cell phone of a former head of the country’s privatization board.
The newspaper Iefimerida reported that Yannis Roubatis, who was head of EYP from 2015-19 under the former Radical Left SYRIZA government, told a parliamentary committee ruled by the New Democracy government that Stergios Pitsiorlas, head of the The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED) was being monitored.
In what was described as “bombshell” testimony, Roubatis reportedly said that was done because Pitsiorlas was negotiating the sale of Greek islands to a company of foreign interests, in which he had an active role.
The newspaper said that to back up his claims Roubatis presented maps of the areas of an island allegedly going to be sold as Greece was trying to divest itself of properties and shares of state enterprises.
That was part of the terms of three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($325.64 billion) given Greece by the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism and the Washington, D.C.-based International Monetary Fund.
The map was said to have shown one-fifth of an island with a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) coastline which the paper said was most probably Zakynthos, and that Roubatis also revealed the names of the foreign investors.
It was said that Roubatis informed then-Premier and now major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras about the apparent conflict of interest and potential corruption and was told to keep snooping on Pitsiorlas.
Tsipras, the report said, called the TAIPED chief, who’s a lawyer, a technocrat but later – to the alleged surprise of Roubatis who thought Pitsiorlas would be fired – was made a Deputy Economy Minister and the tracking order stopped.
An enraged Pitsiorlas said he was being slandered and that, “Roubatis admitted that the EYP was following me directly. I am appealing to the Court of Justice,” for relief.
An equally-dismayed Roubatis, who said the testimony was supposed to be confidential, lashed out at the leak.
“It is with surprise and sadness that I am watching the disinformation recital in which circles unknown to me have been engaged in the last few hours, who are circulating copied – allegedly – excerpts of my testimony today to the Investigative Committee of the Parliament,” he said.
“I categorically state that I never testified that ‘I was surprised to find that Alexis Tsipras, instead of removing Mr. Pitsiorlas, promoted him to deputy minister, which forced me to stop following him a few days earlier.’”
Roubatis said he told Tsipras about the spying at the beginning of 2016 and that the Premier told him “to proceed normally and, if necessary, to send the resulting evidence to the Justice Department. I also emphasized that I never returned because I had all the necessary instructions to do what was legal.”
He added that, “Contrary to events of the recent past, no one – not even the Prime Minister at the time – got involved in the substance of the case and much more did not make me a scapegoat.”
Roubatis, the only witness called who would testify, as others – including former heads of EYP said that in the national interest they couldn’t speak – said that the the phones of Pitsiorlas and Spyros Sagias, the former General-Secretary of a SYRIZA-ANEL government, were bugged because they were talking to others being monitored, Kathimerini said earlier.
It wasn’t indicated who may have given news of the testimony to the media although the panel is dominated by New Democracy lawmakers after the walkout of those from SYRIZA and the PASOK Socialists after it was voted to be kept secret from the public.
That would have been any potential government involvement in the phone tapping of the phones of PASOK leader Nikos Androulakis – also a Member of the European Parliament – and financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis, who was said to be investigating ties between business and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The New Democracy lawmakers also ruled out Androulakis – who called for the investigation – and Koukakis as witnesses, although they would have been the star testimonies because the scandal started around them.
Pitsiorlas lashed out at EYP over the discovery his cell phone was being monitored and said that, “I was directly monitored and, using shameless lies, carried out a despicable operation to smear and morally destroy me.”
In his written statement he said, “I have already instructed my lawyer to proceed with all legal means before the Greek justice system so that the truth shines forth and the responsibilities for this incredible story are given where they are due.”
Roubatis also was said to have testified that in 2013, Greece’s Anti-Money Laundering Authority informed EYP about large sums that deposed Gulf State leaders were trading for the purchase of large areas in Greece, which would have been under a previous New Democracy administration.
“I regret that the content of a deposition, which should be secret, is leaked to the public in a forged form. Those who did it have no idea how sensitive some events are for the country,” he said.
New Democracy members not named told the paper that, “This is not just the smell of a scandal, but a megaton bomb on the foundations of SYRIZA,” with Tsipras having criticized the government over the spyware and phone bugging scandal it was under.