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Greek parliament to probe use of Israeli-made spyware against opposition politician

Representatives of ruling party abstain in vote; PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis has denied knowledge of phone hacking in scandal that has shaken support for his government

A Greek Parliament session in Athens on August 26, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)
A Greek Parliament session in Athens on August 26, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

Greece’s parliament on Monday set up a special committee to investigate a phone-hacking scandal that has roiled the conservative government.

A total of 142 MPs out of 299 present voted to probe the wire-tapping of socialist politician Nikos Androulakis, a European Parliament MEP who is also the leader of Greece’s third-largest party Pasok/Kinal.

There were no opposing votes, and the 157 lawmakers of the ruling New Democracy party abstained, Parliament Speaker Costas Tassoulas told the chamber.

Simmering since last year, the scandal exploded at the end of July when Androulakis filed a legal complaint at Greece’s Supreme Court claiming attempted surveillance of his mobile phone via spyware known as Predator.

The software, developed originally in North Macedonia and subsequently in Israel by Cytrox, allows users to access the calls and messages of the bugged phone.

Within days, it emerged that Androulakis had also been under surveillance from the Greek intelligence service before becoming party leader last year.

Nikos Androulakis, a member of European Parliament and president of the Movement for Change (Pasok-Kinal) party, talks to media after filing a complaint at the Supreme Court in Athens over attempted spying on his mobile phone with Predator malware, July 26, 2022.(Eurokinissi/AFP)

Androulakis said he became aware of the Predator bugging attempt after being informed by the European Parliament’s cyber security service a few days earlier.

The government had for months fended off accusations of wire-tapping by two Greek journalists, one of them claiming to be hacked both by Predator and state intelligence.

In April, financial journalist Thanassis Koukakis said he had been notified by digital rights group Citizen Lab that his phone had been the target of surveillance by Predator software from July to September 2021.

The Committee to Protect Journalists had called for a “swift and thorough investigation… (to) determine who orchestrated that monitoring, and hold them to account.”

But on August 5, the head of Greece’s intelligence service and a close aide — and nephew — to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis quit.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis insists he had not been informed that Androulakis was under surveillance, which, though technically legal, he has called “politically unacceptable.”

The incident has weakened the premier, who is seeking re-election next year.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses a parliament session in Athens on August 26, 2022. (Giorgos KONTARINIS/Eurokinissi/AFP)

A weekend poll found that his party’s lead over its main rival, the leftist party Syriza, has narrowed to 6.3 points from double digits in June.

Androulakis was considered the favorite to succeed in his party leadership vote. As head now of Greece’s third largest party, he is likely to hold the balance of power in the next election – due by mid-2023 at the latest – if no party wins enough seats to form a government without needing a coalition partner, as the current opinion polls suggest.

The government has denied it uses Predator software. The prime minister said earlier in August that the government would propose changes to how the National Intelligence Service operates, including increasing its accountability and parliamentary supervision and making internal changes to bolster transparency, personnel training, and internal controls.

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