Greece’s prime minister says he was unaware the country’s intelligence service bugged an opposition politician’s mobile phone for three months, calling the action “politically unacceptable”.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who faces elections next year, made the remarks in a televised address to the nation on Monday, three days after a wiretapping scandal led to the resignations of the head of the National Intelligence Service, Panagiotis Kontoleon, and the secretary-general of the prime minister’s office, Grigoris Dimitriadis.
He said the surveillance had been approved by supreme court prosecutors, but he added: “It was a mistake. What happened might have been in accordance with the letter of the law, but it was wrong. I didn’t know about it and obviously, I would never have allowed it.”
The National Intelligence Service, known by its acronym EYP, answers directly to the prime minister’s office, a change Mitsotakis brought about himself after winning the 2019 elections.
Mitsotakis said the mobile phones of Nikos Androulakis, who had been running for the leadership of the socialist PASOK opposition party at the time, were placed under “legal surveillance” from September 2021 for three months.
‘Everything happened legally’
The wiretaps were halted “automatically” a few days after Androulakis won the party leadership race, he said, but did not elaborate on why the opposition politician was targeted.
“Even though everything happened legally, the National Intelligence Service underestimated the political dimension of the particular action,” Mitsotakis said. “It was formally adequate, but politically not acceptable. It should not have happened, causing rifts in citizens’ trust in the national security services.”
The prime minister said since the handling of the issue was inappropriate, the head of EYP “was removed immediately” and his own office’s secretary-general “assumed the objective political responsibility” by resigning.
Androulakis dismissed Mitsotakis’s comments on Monday as a bid to play for time, saying the prime minister “methodically avoided providing explanations”.
“Mr Mitsotakis, I request that the reason why I was under surveillance by EYP be announced forthright,” he said. “I won’t accept any cover-up.”
Androulakis filed a complaint with prosecutors at Greece’s Supreme Court on July 26 saying there had been an attempt to bug his mobile phone with spyware named Predator.
The opposition politician, who is also a member of the European Parliament, said he became aware of the Predator bugging attempt after being informed by the European Parliament’s cybersecurity service a few days earlier.
“If it hadn’t been for the official report of the European Parliament’s special service, we would not have learned anything about these dark practices,” Androulakis said.
Androulakis was considered the favourite to succeed his party leadership vote. As head now of Greece’s third-largest party, he is likely to hold the balance of power in the next election – due by mid-2023 at the latest – if no party wins enough seats to form a government without needing a coalition partner, as current opinion polls suggest.
Panos Skourletis, parliamentary representative of the main opposition SYRIZA party, said Richard Nixon resigned as United States president exactly 48 years ago because of a similar scandal, and his party expects Mitsotakis to “at least do the same today … to apologise and resign”.
Already this year, two Greek journalists launched legal action saying they were victims of similar attacks on their phones.