Will Greek Government Be Next European Domino To Fall?

‘I never expected the Greek government to spy on me using the darkest practices.’

The New York Sun/Anthony Grant
The Hellenic parliament building at Athens. The New York Sun/Anthony Grant

ATHENS — The one thing that can be said with certainty about the wiretapping scandal roiling Athens right now — already dubbed the Greek Watergate by some — is that Vladimir Putin had nothing to do with it. The gist of the matter is that earlier this month Greece’s state intelligence service allegedly used spyware to listen in on phone calls made by an opposition government leader, Nikos Androulakis, from his mobile phone. As the Sun reported in May, Mr. Androulakis, who is also a deputy member of the European Parliament, has in recent months seen his political star rise along with that of Greece’s historically robust Socialist party, or Pasok. 

Privacy and discretion are virtues held in high esteem by Greeks, in matters both personal and professional. In this instance, the political aspect is inescapable. When the allegations surfaced in the first week of August, a government spokesman was quick to say that the surveillance was legal. Yet Mr. Androulakis, a mild-mannered 43-year-old from Heraklion, said in a televised address, “I never expected the Greek government to spy on me using the darkest practices.” According to a Fox News report, he learned his phone was being tapped more than a year ago but for unspecified reasons filed a complaint in Greece’s Supreme Court only late last month. 

Mr. Androulakis also said, according to that report, that his cellphone was bugged with Predator spyware. According to Techcrunch, the spyware is made by Cytrox, a company based in North Macedonia that has been banned from the platforms of Meta, parent company of Facebook. On July 29, the European Commission formally requested more information from the Greek government about the use of the spyware.

The head of the left-wing Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras, a former prime minister, lambasted Greece’s current premier, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, saying that he “ought to provide explanations to the Greek people over his own ‘Watergate.’ It’s an issue related to democracy.” Subsequent to that, Syriza’s press representative, Nasos Iliopoulos, went even further, telling a Greek radio station that “the monitoring was done on the order of Mr. Mitsotakis.” He added that “it is unthinkable to discuss that a leader of a political party was monitored for reasons of national security” and that doing so “breaks the democratic contract that the political opponent is not an internal enemy.” 

Although Syriza is the second-largest political party in Greece after Mr. Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party, Pasok, with Mr. Androulakis at the helm, is a close third and — with a platform that is more centrist than Syriza’s — is tipped to hold the balance of power in the next national elections. Those are scheduled for 2023, but the parliamentary session has been moved up to August 22 in light of the crisis and new elections could follow.

Sensing the gravity of the situation early on, Mr. Mitsotakis called the wiretap a “huge and unforgivable mistake,” though he has maintained that it was above board, legally. To make sure that message hit home — and arguably to head off any looming calls from Syriza and Pasok for his resignation — he fired the head of Greece’s national intelligence service, Panagiotis Kontoleon, and his chief of staff, Grigoris Dimitriadis. The day after he did so, Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, called for the spyware affair to be fully investigated and said that protecting the right to privacy was “a fundamental condition of a democratic and liberal society.”

Meanwhile the advent of the languorous Greek summer has done nothing to diminish rampant speculation in Greek media as to who gave the go-ahead for the surveillance. On Monday an unidentified, high-ranking  Pasok official told the newspaper To Vima that “it is obvious that there was an interest in monitoring Mr. Androulakis ahead of the internal party elections in December in order to find out if he [was] proceeding with irregular agreements and agreements and concessionary actions with businessmen or other persons in order to be elected. Something, of course, that the elected president of Pasok never did.”

The Greek wiretapping scandal does not threaten to collapse the government — at least not yet. Yet it comes less than a month after Italy’s ruling coalition collapsed, forcing Prime Minister Draghi into a caretaker role until elections this month. The recent resignation of Britain’s Boris Johnson also looms large on Europe’s shaky political map. With war in Ukraine raging, both Washington and Brussels have much on their plates heading into September, so neither will be displeased if what happens in Greece stays in Greece.

The New York Sun

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