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Greek government rocked by resignations over phone spying allegations

#Greek #government #rocked #resignations #phone #spying #allegations

Greece’s conservative government was rocked by a long-simmering surveillance scandal on Friday after its intelligence chief and close aide of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis resigned within an hour.

Panagiotis Kontoleon has offered his resignation due to “mistakes” by management during his tenure, Mitsotakis’ office said in a statement.

The announcement that Kontoleon had resigned from his position at the head of the national intelligence agency EYP came less than an hour after the Secretary General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Grigoris Dimitriadis, also resigned.

The resignations came a week after the leader of the country’s opposition Socialist party, Nikos Androulakis, filed a complaint with the Supreme Court over “attempted” spying on his cellphone with Predator malware.

Two Greek journalists also took legal action this year after claiming to have been victims of surveillance.

Androulakis on Friday called for a special parliamentary inquiry into the incident.

“I never expected that the Greek government would spy on me with the most obscure practices,” he said.

The government has consistently denied any state involvement and has said it has not purchased any software of this nature, but the disputes have sparked an outcry in the country.

Government spokesman Yiannis Economou said it was “plausible” that individuals were using Predator to spy and that all of Europe was facing surveillance threats.

In November, Greek Minister of State George Gerapetritis told AFP that there was “no state surveillance of journalists” in Greece.

“Greece is fully committed to the values ​​of democratic society and the rule of law, in particular pluralism and freedom of the press,” Gerapetritis said.

As such, he argued there was “no further action to be taken” to review the alleged surveillance of investigative journalist Stavros Malichudis.

Kontoleon, who was appointed EYP chairman in 2019 after Mitsotakis’ conservative party came to power that year, had in that capacity indicated that the journalists had been targeted on behalf of foreign intelligence agencies.

Investigative websites Reporters United and Inside Story have accused Dimitriadis – a nephew of Mitsotakis – of being linked to the alleged espionage scandals involving Androulakis and Greek financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis.

Dimitriadis on Friday threatened to sue Reporters United and the leftist daily Efsyn if they don’t retract a story on the case. Koukakis was also warned not to retweet the story.

In one of his first acts after taking power in 2019, Mitsotakis raised eyebrows by attaching national intelligence to his office.

The main opposition party, the left-wing Syriza, called the affair “a huge scandal”. Their leader, former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said Dimitriadis’ resignation was “an admission of guilt” and that Mitsotakis himself shared some responsibility.

“Mr. Mitsotakis must give explanations to the Greek people about their own Watergate,” Tsipras said.

– “A dystopian, Orwellian reality” –

Experts point out that Predator, originally developed in North Macedonia and later in Israel, can access both messages and conversations.

“A few days ago I was informed by the European Parliament that an attempt was being made to bug my mobile phone with the Predator surveillance software,” Androulakis told the media as he left a court in Athens on July 26.

“Finding out who is behind these harmful practices is not a personal matter but a democratic duty,” he added.

The European Parliament set up a special service for MEPs to check their phones for illegal surveillance software after hacks using a Predator-like spyware called Pegasus.

Androulakis used the service for “a precautionary check of his phone on June 28, 2022.”

“The initial review discovered a suspicious link related to the Predator surveillance tool,” his PASOK party said in a statement.

The software can infiltrate cell phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners.

“Predator is among the most expensive spyware programs and is unattainable for individuals,” cybersecurity specialist Anastasios Arampatzis told AFP, saying only a state needs its sophisticated security capabilities.

“Security and privacy must be guaranteed by any democratic regime. When a state spies on its citizens, we are heading towards a dystopian, Orwellian reality.”

Spain’s intelligence chief was sacked earlier this year after it was revealed that top politicians – including Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalan separatists – were targets of phone hacks.

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