Greece’s prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Monday he was unaware that the country’s intelligence service had attempted to tap an opposition politician’s mobile phone and insisted he would not have allowed it had he known.
The wiretapping scandal led to the resignation of Panagiotis Kontoleon, head of the National Intelligence Service (EYP), and Grigoris Dimitriadis, general secretary of the prime minister’s office.
Nikos Androulakis, leader of Pasok, Greece’s third-largest political party — who is also a member of the European parliament — revealed last week that his phone had been tapped by the EYP.
In a televised address on Monday, the prime minister said: “What took place was not illegal but it was a mistake. I did not know it and obviously I would have never allowed it.”
He said he would propose changes to the way the intelligence service worked, adding that the EYP had underestimated the political consequences of its actions.
The resignation on Friday of Dimitriadis, who is also Mitsotakis’s nephew, and the EYP chief Kontoleon, came after the prime minister’s office said the EYP had carried out “incorrect actions” in the “procedure of legal surveillance”. It did not clarify which procedure was incorrectly followed.
Androulakis, who became leader of the centre-left Pasok in December last year, said he discovered there had been an attempt to bug his mobile phone using Predator spyware when he handed it to the cyber security service of the European parliament.
The highly sophisticated surveillance system gains access to encrypted messages such as WhatsApp and can activate a phone’s camera and microphone.
Speaking on Greek television on Friday, Androulakis said: “I never expected the Greek government to spy on me using the darkest practices.”
He has filed a complaint with prosecutors at the Greek Supreme Court detailing the attempted wiretapping.
EYP was placed under the direct control of Mitsotakis’s office shortly after he became prime minister in the summer of 2019 when his centre-right New Democracy party won elections.
Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch politician leading an inquiry by the European parliament into the use of spyware across Europe, said that her “gut feeling” was that the Greek wiretapping claims were “probably the tip of the iceberg”.
MEPs in the European parliament have been investigating the use of spyware in Hungary, Poland and Spain, where both members of the Madrid government and Catalan separatist movement have been victims of spyware hacks.
In ‘t Veld said she had expected revelations about Greece based on research she had already carried out and would put forward a proposal to add it to the list of countries being investigated, which she expected to receive broad support.
Alexis Tsipras, the former prime minister and leader of the leftwing opposition Syriza party, said the phone tapping was Greece’s “own Watergate” which insulted democracy and called on Mitsotakis to reveal which other politicians and journalists had been wiretapped.
According to MPs present at the session, Kontoleon admitted during a closed parliamentary session on July 29 that his service had spied on Greek financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis after a request from another country. Greek government officials later denied that Kontoleon had made the alleged admission of spying. Koukakis, who has previously contributed to the Financial Times, has taken legal action.