The Spying Shadow Still Hangs Over Mitsotakis, Greece’s Elections

February 12, 2023

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government has largely held down a phone bugging scandal that threatened his leadership but enough remains to be a catalyst in spring elections.

In a review, the US-based Courthouse News Service which focuses on civil litigation said the monitoring of the cell phones of 15,475 people – including military leaders and some of his own ministers as well as journalists and business executives – has cast a shadow over his administration.

The feature by New Zealander Cain Bureau, the news service’s European Union correspondent, laid out a series of hard questions for the government to deal with as it faces sniping from the major opposition SYRIZA.

Mitsotakis’ party remains about 6 points ahead in surveys and a parliamentary panel dominated by New Democracy lawmakers kept an investigation secret and anyone who releases details facing prosecution.

But it didn’t keep SYRIZA leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras – daring authorities to arrest him – from accusing Mitsotakis of orchestrating what the leftist chief said was tantamount to a spy state undermining democracy.

It’s been a slow-burn scandal with reports coming out intermittently, most ignored by the government, which also brushed aside complaints from a European Parliament committee about a media freedom crackdown.

“Each month has brought to light more evidence of Mitsotakis’ likely knowledge and possible involvement in the surveillance of opposition politicians, journalists, government ministers, military officers, allies, prosecutors and others,” the report said about how it came out.

Has it made a dent? “Mitsotakis was very keen to project a new image of Greece: liberal, progressive,” Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst with Teneo, a London-based political risk firm. “It did him well until this scandal exploded,” he told the news site about it.

Besides the phone bugging, the government has denied that it’s behind attempts to put Predator spyware on the cell phones of some targets – including opposition PASOK-KINAL leader Nikos Androulakis, also a Member of the European Parliament and reporter Thanasis Koukakis.

“It is a major scandal which speaks to bigger questions such as democratic backsliding in Europe,” said Myrto Tsakatika, a politics professor and expert on Greece at the University of Glasgow. “This is a test for Greek democracy.”

The National Intelligence Service EYP – which Mitsotakis put under his direct control when he ousted Tsipras and took office in July, 2019 snap elections – admitted the phone bugging but the Prime Minister said he didn’t know it.

“There is a dangerous turn taken by Greece,” Saskia Bricmont, a Green party Belgian politician and member of a European Parliament committee probing spyware use in the EU told the site.

“They (the Greek government) used a very intrusive spyware violating data privacy rules; violating intimacy, family life, the private life of people,” Bricmont charged. “It is high time for the EU to react considering the evolution of the situation in Greece,” she said.

“We haven’t used (spyware) to monitor anybody because we don’t have it,” a Greek government official not named said. “That’s the official line that’s been repeated. There has been legal surveillance, but not using Predator,” adding that rivals are using the issue for political gain.

The complaints come as Mitsotakis has propelled an economic comeback during the waning COVID-19 pandemic and successfully luring more major corporations to invest in Greece, including high-companies.


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