Greece faces its “Watergate” scandal
During the last couple of days, Greece is experiencing a local version of the infamous “Watergate” scandal. The eavesdropping scandal resulted in the resignations of Greece’s intelligence chief and the head of Mitsotakis’ personal office. The opposition calls for further resignations amid revelations of “dark practices.” The opposition accuses the conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the pretext that it is trying to turn Greece's democratic constitution into the authoritarian models of Viktor Orban's Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey.
After the latest revelations, the Greek prime minister is facing his toughest hour in office since the beginning of his term in mid-2019. According to the recent information, the mobile phone of the leader of Greece’s third largest party and Mitsotakis’ political opponent was tapped by order of EYP (National Intelligence Agency). The fact that intelligence service reports directly to the prime minister’s office at Maximou has put Mitsotakis in a difficult position. Following the discovery, Panagiotis Kontoleon, until then the EYP chief, has resigned. Next to that came the shock announcement that Mitsotakis’s nephew and most trusted aide, Grigoris Dimitriadis, had also stepped down.
Acknowledging the scandal, the government spokesperson, Ioannis Economou stated that “From the outset, the Government has been clearly in favour of a full investigation of the case, within the framework set by the law, and has already remedied the consequences of the mishandling of the case. All answers will be given in the appropriate manner: with full institutional respect and safeguard of the public interest. At the end of the thorough investigation the final political assessment will be made.”
The chronicle of the scandal
On Tuesday morning 26/7 the President of PASOK - Movement for Change, Nikos Androulakis appeared at the Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Court. He filed a complaint after he had detected a surveillance software, the so-called “Predator the Thief”, on his mobile phone.
Ten months earlier, Google had confirmed that Predator had been sold to government agencies in countries including Greece. This was preceded by the monitoring of journalist Thanasis Koukakis' mobile phone and the prosecutors’ following intervention to investigate the case. Google had clarified that the malware affected not only iPhones but also Android devices.
According to the experts, the spy software sends the target an iMessage -a message with a special gif. Via this message, the hackers gain access to the person's device. They use a 'security hole' in the phone's operating system and install their own software to track the target without the user's knowledge.
According to the Greek press, “Predator the Thief” is a start-up product of the company Cytrox, based in North Macedonia. A review of the company’s registration documents shows it was founded in 2017 by five Israelis and one Hungarian and had a corporate presence in Israel and Hungary.
“Protect the human rights and freedoms of Greek citizens”
The newly elected Pasok leader, Nikos Androulakis, who is also a member of the European parliament is at the epicentre of the recent developments. According to the fresh revelations, the Greek authorities monitored his mobile phone along with the communications of journalists who are critical of the government.
Androulakis, who has already taken legal action, stated that “I never expected the Greek government to spy on me using the darkest practices. It is our democratic duty to protect the human rights and freedoms of Greek citizens. Today is a moment of truth for those whose arrogance and sense of impunity make them capable of anything.”
Androulakis, in a post on social media, referred to scenarios that allegedly third countries have requested his surveillance. These scenarios are denied by the countries named, such as Armenia and Ukraine.
“Our country and its institutions do not deserve this downfall, for which Mr Mitsotakis is solely responsible. I will therefore reiterate my request that everything be brought to light transparently and in line with the rules of democracy. Mr Mitsotakis, who has decided to bring the EYP under his direct and exclusive jurisdiction and changed the institutional framework in order to appoint his chosen one, must give specific answers. Why was I under surveillance? Who owns and on behalf of whom is the Predator spy ‘super weapon’ being used in Greece against politicians and journalists for collecting material to blackmail persons?”, Androulakis asked.
Turning Greece into Erdogan’s Turkey
Along with the leader of the third largest party, the entire Greek opposition rebukes the conservative government for the recent scandal. The opposition accuses the government on the pretext of following the authoritarian model of Turkey.
In an on-camera statement, in the wake of the surveillance scandal, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the main opposition party Syriza, accused PM Mitsotakis of deliberately lying. “He didn't know when he himself had overseen the EYP from day one. Didn't he know what he was legislating? Who can believe him? Which other politicians and journalists were monitored by the regime he tried to set up?”
“The wiretapping scandal is neither forgotten nor cancelled with a few apologies and a few government resignations, since it brings to the surface a dark environment and a perforated institutional framework, which the KKE has repeatedly denounced.”, stated in a written announcement the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).
“Since the summer of 2019, Mera25 has been denouncing inside and outside the Parliament the political choices of the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis to prosecute journalists, to prohibit the peaceful demonstrations, and the unnecessary police violence. For the last three years, as Mera25 has been systematically revealing that since 2019, Mitsotakis has been presiding over stripping away basic freedoms and imposing an Orban-Erdogan-type regime” was the statement of the party whose leader is the former Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis.
“The Right is guilty”
The scandal is attracting the interest of Greeks and columnists and analysts. Except for some media outlets close to the New Democracy government, most Greek media outlets host analyses and opinions that are harshly critical of the government over the scandal.
“The scandal is very serious. There are uncontrolled networks of either state agencies or 'private' individuals who tap even the telephone of the leader of the third party in parliament. This development shows that there is something wrong with our democracy. We had already known that a journalist was under surveillance when the revelation came that an attempt had been made to infect Nikos Androulakis' mobile phone with surveillance software. We also know that there are indeed many legal interceptions.”, underlines Lefteris Haralampopoulos. According to the columnist, “If indeed the EYP bought such software to increase its ‘operational efficiency’, this needs to be clarified, as well as what security safeguards are in place. And if some have overstepped the bounds of legality, heads should roll.”
For Yorgos Stamatopoulos “The resignations are not ‘democratic’ fireworks, but proof that the government is guilty on the sensitive issue of personal data and security of citizens. These resignations were accepted by the Prime Minister. If that is not an admission of guilt, I don't know what else to assume. At least some sensitivity was shown, though it seems that the government is throwing ash in the eyes of the public - and the opposition.”
To the above, Tasos Pappas adds that “The Right has a rich tradition in this particular ‘sport’. In the distant past, it monitored the moves of the enemy (the communist Left) who, in its estimation, had not reconciled itself to the defeat in the Civil War. During the post-junta period and until 1981, with the various departments in the Security Service (student, labour and other), the Right monitored parties, student factions, trade unions and organisations. In 1989-90 it tapped Andreas Papandreou's phones and fed her friendly media with titillating details about the private life of PASOK's founder.”
*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece on the news website 'Duvar".