Pressure builds on Greek PM Mitsotakis, despite vow to clean up spy agency

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Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed Monday to overhaul the country’s intelligence service after a spying scandal, but was immediately accused by a top opposition figure who had his phone bugged of trying to “buy time.”

Opposition parties rounded on Mitsotakis, who was making his first public appearance after a ballooning wiretap scandal forced the resignations of two of his closest aides last Friday.

In a televised statement, Mitsotakis — who leads the center-right New Democracy party — tried to walk a tightrope regarding the mobile phone hacking of Socialist Pasok leader Nikos Androulakis. In the same breath, he both defended and criticized the surveillance, saying “everything was done 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, adding that the episode had cracked public confidence in the National Security Services (EYP), which is directly supervised by the prime minister’s office.

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Mitsotakis said Androulakis’ phone had been placed under “lawful surveillance” lasting for three months from September 2021, at the time he had been running for Pasok’s leadership. The bugs, Mitsotakis said, had been halted “automatically” a few days after Androulakis won the leadership race. Mitsotakis did not elaborate on why Androulakis was targeted, or who had ordered the hack.

Regarding the senior resignations Friday, Mitsotakis said intelligence chief Panagiotis Kontoleon “was removed immediately” due to his handling of the surveillance issue; and government General Secretary Grigoris Dimitriadis — who is Mitsotakis’ own nephew — took “political responsibility” by stepping down.

Opposition opprobrium

But hacking-victim Androulakis and Greece’s opposition parties dismissed Mitsotakis’ attempt to control the damage.

“Mr. Mitsotakis, I request that the reason for my surveillance by EYP, which you have the audacity to characterize as legitimate […] be made public immediately,” Androulakis said in a written statement. 

“I will not accept any cover-up,” he added. “The prime minister today tried to buy time. But time is now counting against him. Soon he will be confronted with the truth.”

Androulakis — who is also an MEP — noted there was another attempted tap of his phone with a Pegasus-style software called Predator, which he became aware of thanks to an inspection by the European Parliament cybersecurity service. The attempted hack took place around the same time that Androulakis was put under surveillance by Greece’s intelligence service. The Greek government denies purchasing or using Predator software. 

Greece’s left-wing opposition party Syriza also lambasted the prime minister in a statement, and called for him to stand down.

Syriza said Mitsotakis was “guilty” and would use “any lie, any hypocrisy, any distortion in order to save himself.”

“He did not have the courage to do the obvious thing for any liberal European democracy, resign,” it added.

In his address, Mitsotakis promised a number of changes to the way the intelligence service operates, including increasing its accountability and parliamentary supervision, and moving ahead with internal changes to increase transparency. He also said that a parliamentary committee will probe the conditions under which the surveillance took place. 

Mitsotakis did not repeat claims that appeared at the weekend in Greek media, where government officials claimed that the “legal wiretapping” of Androulakis was carried out at the request of the Ukrainian and Armenian intelligence services, implying the MEP was being spied on because he is too close to Russia and Turkey; or that foreign intelligence services were interested in Androulakis due to his participation in a European Parliament committee dealing with EU relations with China.

Ukrainian Ambassador to Greece Sergii Shutenko said the claims were “divorced from reality,” while Armenian Ambassador Tigran Mkrtchyan called them a “shameless lie.”