A far-reaching wiretapping scandal, also dubbed the Greek Watergate affair by the media, is increasingly causing the government in Athens under Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to explain itself. So far, one thing is certain: the Greek secret service monitored the phones of opposition politician and MEP Nikos Androulakis, as well as financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis. Mitsotakis denies knowing about it.
It was he who, after his election in July 2019, brought responsibility for the secret service directly to his office. After the Greek media brought the scandal to the public, the head of the secret service resigned. Mitsotaki’s office manager and nephew, Grigoris Dimitriadis, directly responsible for government-intelligence cooperation, was also forced to leave.
The Greek prime minister promised complete clarification. But many questions remain unanswered. When Mitsotakis spoke in a video statement in early August, he made it clear that the surveillance of Nikos Androulakis, head of the country’s third-largest party, was not illegal, but was nevertheless a political mistake.
No word on the fact that journalist Thanasis Koukakis was also demonstrably under surveillance. Koukakis had been investigating around the big Piraeus Bank and had become the target of authorities who viewed him as a national security threat.
Four weeks after the first public statement, Koukakis sees no progress. Since then, there have been two meetings of the responsible bodies and the transparency committee of the parliament – with the public excluded. “In these sessions, the governing majority protected those primarily responsible.
They were allowed to claim confidentiality and didn’t have to explain why they were watching Androulakis,” he says. There are also no answers as to why he was being put under surveillance at a time when he was investigating government legislatures encouraging financial crime.
The illegal eavesdropping software Predator also raises unpleasant questions. The technical service of the European Parliament was able to prove an attempt to install the software on Nikos Androulakis’ mobile phone – without success. Thanasis Koukakis, on the other hand, clicked on the link sent to his cell phone from a private number, thereby unwittingly allowing access to the software.
A previously unknown third party had access to his data for weeks. The Greek government has denied all allegations of being connected to Predator. If it turns out that Athens did arrange for the installation, even if it did not carry it out, this would be a case for the public prosecutor.
While Prime Minister Mitsotakis accused Russia and Turkey of illegally using the software in a vague statement, Koukakis and his colleagues see no reason for this. Instead, they wonder why the Athens offices of the company Intelexa, which distributes the software, have not yet been searched by the authorities.
Research by the Greek investigative network “Reporters United” and the news portal “Inside Story” had been able to prove connections between Intelexa and Grigoris Dimitriadis, Mitsotakis’ nephew and former office manager. Dimitriadis denied the allegations and filed a complaint against the journalists.
The media situation in Greece also worries independent experts. The country ranks 108th out of 180 on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index – the lowest ranking for an EU country. The organization complains that journalists are prevented from doing their work.
Athens recently threatened the “Spiegel” reporter Giorgos Christides, who has been reporting on the devastating human rights violations on the Turkish-Greek border for years, with legal action. It’s the same for other journalists. On social media, media workers critical of the government have been accused of spreading Turkish propaganda.
The Greek government supports this rhetoric. In a recent interview with the pro-government broadcaster Skai, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said there were two fronts: Turkey on the one hand, and left-wing media and non-governmental organizations on the other.
Jamie Wiseman from the International Press Institute (IPI) criticized that Athens uses political conflicts as a distraction. “Obscure statements about national security must not be used to sweep surveillance scandals under the rug,” he says. So far, Athens has tried to downplay the scandals. There is a lack of the necessary will for complete clarification.