Greece’s prime minister has tried to cover up a wiretapping scandal engulfing his government, saying he had no idea the country’s socialist party leader was being watched by intelligence services reporting directly to him.
In an address to the nation on Monday, Kyriakos Mitsotakis described the wiretapping of Pasok party leader Nikos Androulakis as a mistake that should never have happened.
“What was done may have been within the letter of the law, but it was wrong,” Mitsotakis said. “I didn’t know that and obviously I would never have allowed it.”
The eavesdropping unfolded over a three-month period last year as the newly revitalized center-left Pasok, Greece’s third-largest political force, was preparing to elect a new leader. Androulakis, a 43-year-old MEP, had been favored to win the race.
By the time the revelations came to light, with the resignation of the Mediterranean nation’s spy chief and Mitsotakis’ most trusted aide, center-right government officials reportedly said the wiretaps had been ordered by the intelligence services. Ukrainian and Armenian intelligence. The sensitive role of the Social Democrat in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, which deals with China, was cited.
But the prime minister, facing the toughest hour in his tenure since taking office in July 2019, stressed that while the surveillance had been approved by a senior prosecutor, as required by law, it was “politically unacceptable”.
“In our democracy, the shadow cannot exist and that is why I want to talk to you openly about recent developments,” he told the Greeks at the start of his nearly seven-minute speech.
“Although everything was done legally, the National Intelligence Service, EYP, underestimated the political dimension of this particular action. It was… politically unacceptable.
The Greek political scene was deeply shaken by a scandal that the left-wing opposition was quick to equate with Watergate.
Androulakis, who has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the matter, expressed dismay that the Greek government had resorted to the “dark practices” last employed by the colonels who took power in 1967, plunging the country into seven years of military rule.
“I will continue to fight for justice, the Greek parliament and the European institutions to bring out the whole truth,” the leader of Pasok tweeted, saying that the wiretapping had humiliated and exposed Greece internationally.
European Parliament sources, reporting that the scandal is far from over, said the matter would almost certainly be picked up when the 705-seat chamber returns from its summer recess.
Androulakis, an MEP since 2014, says the organisation’s Strasbourg-based cybersecurity unit has enough evidence to prove that attempts were made to monitor his mobile phone using the Predator malware.
An EU member state bugging an MEP would be seen as particularly egregious. Greek government spokesman Ioannis Oikonomou insisted on Monday that Athens had never used the “notorious malware” and that the “legal” surveillance of Androulakis had been carried out with “conventional means”.
Mitsotakis, who faces re-election next year, took control of EYP within weeks of taking office. Amid growing calls for his resignation, many have described his damage control efforts as too little too late.
“As well as being a liar, he came across as arrogant and remorseless,” the main opposition Syriza party said in a statement, adding that it was impossible to believe senior government officials had previously denied that the wiretaps ever took place.
Opposition politicians pointed to the fierce denials of the Ukrainian and Armenian ambassadors in Athens as further evidence that the administration had been unclear. Diplomats reacted with outrage to suggestions that their countries had requested the wiretaps with Kyiv envoy Sergii Shutenko, describing the claims as “dissociated from reality”.
The Armenian ambassador, Tigran Mkrtchyan, went further, calling the allegation a “brainless lie”. “Armenia has never asked any government to tap anyone’s phone,” he said.
Analysts expressed surprise at the lack of any attempt to explain why Androulakis had been watched, although he was not the only one.
Before the head of Pasok went public with the Predator allegations – filing a complaint with Athens Supreme Court prosecutors on July 26 – two Greek journalists had also filed a lawsuit over digital evidence they also had been spied on by an administration that faced international charges of attempting to limit press freedom.
“It was a speech that left many questions unanswered,” said Lamprini Rori, assistant professor of political analysis at the University of Athens. “Yes, Mitsotakis accepted it was a mistake, but public opinion and the political elite wanted to know why Androulakis was being watched in the first place and it was never addressed.”
The scandal was undoubtedly a blow for the Greek Prime Minister, who had boasted of being supported by centrists during the last elections. “The crisis will cost the government this part of the electorate,” Rori said. “Centrist voters will find it difficult to trust [Mitsotakis’s party] New Democracy after that.
Greek PM denies knowledge of opponent’s phone tapping