(Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he was unaware that Greece’s national intelligence service was monitoring the cellphone of an opposition politician, and the prime minister vowed to reform how the device is monitored.
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“What was done may have been in accordance with the letter of the law, but it was wrong – I was not aware of it and obviously I would never allow it,” Mitsotakis said in a statement on Monday. Mitsotakis said he only learned about the wiretapping a few days ago.
The head of Greek intelligence, Panagiotis Kontoleon, resigned last week after a “mishandling of legal surveillance operations,” the prime minister’s office said at the time. Kontoleon told a parliamentary committee that his agency had surveilled a journalist, Reuters reported last week, citing two sources who said they were present at the meeting.
Adding to the unrest in Athens, Grigoris Dimitriadis, the secretary-general of Mitsotakis’ office and the prime minister’s nephew, quit the same day. Neither Dimitriadis nor the government gave a reason for the decision.
Mitsotakis said he called for the resignation of Kontoleon while Dimtiradis assumed political responsibility as the case highlighted the lack of additional “filters” in the operation of the intelligence services. The government agreed to set up a commission to investigate the matter, he said.
A type of spyware called Predator was deployed against Nikos Androulakis, the leader of Greece’s opposition socialist Pasok party, and journalist Thanasis Koukakis, according to a forensic analysis by digital rights group Citizen Lab and the European Parliament. A Greek government spokesman denied the use of the Predator software.
The surveillance of Androulakis – a member of the European Parliament – was legal and carried out before he was elected leader of the Pasok party in December, government spokesman Ioannis Oikonomou told Skai TV on Monday. He added that it was “politically unacceptable” for an elected official’s mobile phone to be monitored.
The case has nothing to do with the discussion about Predator and malware, Oikonomou said. “The Greek security forces, the Greek government have neither acquired, nor are any government authorities using in any way, directly or indirectly, this notorious malware,” he said.
Oikonomou added that Greece would not go to early elections because of the case. Mitsotakis said in his speech that the government would review the oversight of the intelligence services and strengthen its accountability from parliament.
A report by Google’s Threat Analysis Group published in May suggested that the Predator software is routinely used by “state-sponsored actors” in countries including Greece, Egypt, Indonesia and Spain.
Androulakis filed a complaint on July 26 with a prosecutor saying someone had tried to tap his cell phone and capture personal data. Koukakis has alleged that his smartphone was infected with surveillance software, prompting a separate investigation by a prosecutor.
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