ATHENS – Greece’s unrelenting spyware scandal now has Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis taking on one of the country’s most powerful shipping oligarchs, Evangelos Marinakis, who owns the Olympiakos soccer team and the newspaper Ta Nea, using it to launch a fierce attack on the premier.
The business magazine Barron’s said that Marinakis, who had been acquitted in a soccer match-fixing scandal and has been under investigation for years over a cargo ship carrying heroin, “is waging open warfare” against Mitsotakis.
Mitsotakis has denied his New Democracy government is using Predator spyware although the investigative site Documento – close to the major opposition SYRIZA – has named more than 60 people it said are being surveilled.
They include government ministers and their wives and close associates of Mitsotakis, none of whom are speaking out about it after his administration closed ranks and barred release of any information, including from a parliament committee it controls allegedly investigating it as well.
The National Intelligence Service EYP has admitted bugging the phones of 15,745 people – including PASOK Socialist leader Nikos Androulakis – it said was in the name of national security but wouldn’t reveal why.
But it’s the existence of Predator – now owned by a company run by an Israeli ex-intelligence office who moved offices to Athens – that keeps flaring up, Mitsotakis saying his government would be the first to ban its sale.
He’s said it could be being used by other parties – hinting at Marinakis – in a story that threatens New Democracy with mid-2023 elections coming and surveys showing Greeks think it’s a critical issue.
Marinakis, the 55-year-old owner of English Premier League club Nottingham Forest and Greece’s most successful football club Olympiacos, was named in the media as one of the targets of the surveillance.
An old American saying that “Don’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrels” is in play now with Marinakis using his media empire to go right back at Mitsotakis in a battle of heavyweights.
Marinakis bought Greece’s top media group DOL in 2017 and the leading TV channel Mega and he’s using them in a fierce counterattack, most of them tied to political parties and governments to get ad contracts.
Two days after the Documento report, Ta Nea said more than 100 people in Greece were under surveillance although it’s become a cloudy issue whether it’s through phone bugging or spyware use.
“Only those involved in non-institutional surveillance and the underworld resort to such means,” said Marinakis, a dangerous enemy in any case, and not afraid to take on an entire government.
MOVING GOAL POSTS
“The Prime Minister must find the courage, move heaven and earth, to clarify this sordid case and bring the culprits to justice,” he added, slamming the scandal as a “corruption of democracy,” said Barron’s.
That came almost immediately after Mitsotakis, in a TV interview with Antenna, seemed to pin the blame on Marinakis, saying that, The prime minister hours earlier had fanned the flames in a televised interview in which he appeared to take direct aim at Marinakis. “Some people are confusing their roles,” he said.
“Just because they own a team or control certain media or possibly both, they think they can blackmail, dictate the government’s course of action,” he said, adding to the tension.
What makes the battle so unique, the site said, is its openness and because it’s seen as a break between two men whose families have had long-standing ties and are two of the premier power brokers.
Decades ago, Marinakis’s father was a New Democracy lawmaker and a friend of Mitsotakis’s father Constantinos, himself a former prime minister.
Marinakis was best man at the 1998 wedding of Mitsotakis’s sister Dora, a former foreign minister of Greece and former mayor of Athens.
Marinakis, ranked the 47th Most Influential Person on the shipping industry’s Lloyd’s List in 2021, has a fortune of more than $600 million at his disposal and prospered during the country’s long economic crisis.
He’s a political animal as well, having sat on the Piraeus City Council board since 2014, having enormous weight for the country’s most important port that is run by the Chinese management company COSCO.
His company Capital Maritime and affiliated firms operate a total fleet of 98 ships and while Greece’s tax-free shipping tycoons mostly sat on their hands during the economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic he funded Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in public hospitals.
He also signed a partnership between Olympiakos and the United Nation’s Children’s Emergency Fund UNICEF in 2010, padding his credentials for philanthropy in a sector not known for it.
He also has the zealous backing of his Olympiakos fans, which counts in Greece where even politicians have backed off getting tough on a game known for a list of scandals and corruption.
Giannis Zaimakis, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Crete, called his workings a “relationship of patronage and cronyism in the image of Greek society,” which operates under those rules.
Elected in June by fellow club owners to head the top-flight Super League, Marinakis is currently locked in a bitter dispute with the Greek football federation and seems to cherish a fight, bringing it to Mitsotakis, who’s swinging back hard.