Wiretapping scandal in Greece – DW – 12/16/2022

Greek police raided the Athens office of the Israeli firm Intellexa. The company distributes the illegal Predator wiretapping software that has been making headlines in Greece since the summer after it was found on the mobile phones of journalists and politicians.

“They found three broken chairs and a broken table,” laughs Kostas Vaxenavis. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper critical of the government Document newspaper cannot suppress his cynicism. There were overwhelming suspicions, but so far the prosecutor has been slow to act, he says. “They put on this show nine months after the Intellexa case came to light. Of course they found nothing.”

For Vaxenavis, this is not a surprise. He believes almost no one in the state apparatus is seriously interested in getting to the bottom of the growing wiretapping scandal.

After initial reports in the summer about the illegal surveillance of investigative journalist Thanasis Koukakis and the surveillance of the head of the opposition party PASOK by the Greek intelligence service (EYP) on the orders of the prime minister’s office, Vaxenavis and his team investigation uncovered more cases. in early november.

They published a list of 33 names of people who, Document says, they were spied on using illegal wiretapping software. They included prominent members of the government, such as Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Development Minister Adonis Georgadis, media magnate and shipowner Evangelos Marinakis, and former Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Kostas Vaxevanis, in a gray shirt, sits at a desk with a 'Document' logo on the wall.
Kostas Vaxenavis is an investigative journalist and editor-in-chief of Document newspaper, which broke the spyware story.Image: Florian Schmitz/DW

Since then, Document has added more names to the list. Those affected include parliamentarians, owners of major media companies, journalists, businessmen and people associated with these objectives. What is surprising is that he not only spied on opponents of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, both inside and outside his party, but also on some of his confidants.

How many were affected in total? “We’re talking about hundreds of people,” Vaxenavis replies. He suspects that the government has collected information with which they could be blackmailed. As a result, he suggests that many wouldn’t speak up officially even if their phones were infected with Predator.

Targeted communications?

Although the Greek scandal is definitely getting some publicity, there hasn’t been a huge public outcry. “The government is trying to give the Greek people the impression that this is not a serious matter,” Vaxenavis told DW. For three years now, he says, a communications team at Maximos Mansion, the prime minister’s official residence, has been using “dirty, yet familiar, old” techniques. He claims that whenever investigations exposing serious government abuses are published, news stories circulate to divert attention to issues such as public safety or Greece’s ongoing dispute with neighboring Turkey.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in a dark suit, raises his hand in greeting during a visit to London last year.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is suspected of involvement in the wiretapping scandalImage: Justin Ng/Avalon/Photoshot/Picture Alliance

Furthermore, journalists are being publicly discredited, says Vaxenavis. “Once again, they [i.e. the government – Editor’s note] they are trying to give the impression that these revelations are just political intrigue. When we found out about the Novartis scandal, they spread the story in the media that it wasn’t really a scandal but a botched investigation by a journalist, instigated by the opposition.”

Vaxenavis was substantially involved in reporting on the Novartis scandal, which exposed shady deals between the Swiss pharmaceutical company and high-ranking Greek politicians. The government sued Vaxenavis and a lengthy legal battle ensued. It was not until this summer that the case was resolved, in favor of Vaxenavis.

Growing concern abroad

The government denies using Predator. After the first 33 names were published, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou commented that the report was replete with stories but presented no evidence. However, he said, the allegations had to be fully investigated by the Greek authorities and the judiciary. Vaxenavis and other journalists covering the issue have been waiting for answers ever since.

Pegasus: the invisible spy

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The Predator scandal, however, has aroused greater concern in other countries. international media, including The New York Times and the French newspaper The world have regularly covered developments. A report by the European Parliament’s PEGA committee, which investigates the use of surveillance spyware such as Pegasus and Predator, makes it clear that illegal Predator software is being used to spy on citizens.

Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, who as rapporteur investigated the problems surrounding illegal wiretapping in Greece, said that while there was no definitive evidence, everything pointed to the involvement of members of government circles. She also criticized the unwillingness of the Greek authorities to cooperate.

internal crisis

Although the pressure on the Greek prime minister is clearly mounting, his party, Nea Dimokratia, remains stable. At the end of November, opinion polls indicated that it had barely lost support since the scandal broke and was still the strongest party, with just over 30%.

According to Dimitris Christopoulos, head of the political science department at Panteion University in Athens, this is because the population is struggling with the current economic situation and is more concerned about it than about illegal spyware.

Dimitris Christopoulos sits in a home office, smiling slightly in an open-necked blue shirt.
Dimitris Christopoulos, Dean of the Department of Political Science, Panteoin University of AthensImage: Florian Schmitz/DW

“It’s not the biggest problem for people in Greece,” he tells DW. “I don’t think a wiretapping scandal is as big in a country with problems like the ones we face here.” He points out that even Nixon was reelected a year after Watergate.

However, adds the political scientist, this does not mean that the government has not been damaged by the scandal. “This government has lost the unity it has enjoyed up to now in Europe and internationally,” he says. “Mitsotakis can no longer save face.”

Above all, Christopoulos believes that the position of the Greek prime minister within his own party has weakened. “Until this summer, Mitsotakis and his team set the political agenda. Now he has lost that edge.” However, he sees Nea Dimokratia as resilient and capable of recovering from this crisis. To achieve this, he believes, it is conceivable that the party would distance itself from Mitsotakis.

This article has been translated from German.

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