Greek government faces confidence vote over spying row

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused of orchestrating mass wiretaps of political allies and foes

The leader of Greece’s main opposition party has tabled a motion of no confidence against the government, accusing the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, of orchestrating mass wiretaps of political friends and foes.

“For the past six months, Greek society has been witness to disclosures of an inconceivable number of phone taps, the deepest deviation from rule of law that the country has seen in its modern history,” said Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftist Syriza party, as he submitted the motion. “We have a historic duty to act.”

Accusing Mitsotakis of replicating an “Orwellian dystopia”, Tsipras said the prime minister had not only orchestrated the mass wiretapping of public figures across the board but had sought to hide his “moral bankruptcy” by obstructing a judicial inquiry.

“[He] will be forced to come to parliament – even if he constantly wants to run away – to give explanations, to be accountable, to answer,” said Tsipras, who was prime minister between 2015 and 2019.

The motion, which immediately triggered a three-day parliamentary debate, was a first step, he told MPs, “for the defence of democracy, transparency and justice”. A vote is expected to take place Friday.

Although the ruling New Democracy party’s 156 majority in the 300-seat chamber of deputies means the motion is unlikely to pass, the overwhelming support it has received from the opposition is expected to cause maximum unease for the government.

The centre-right administration was initially put on the defensive in August when the wiretapping scandal, described as “Greece’s Watergate”, first broke.

Mitsotakis was forced to let go of his spy chief and his nephew Grigoris Dimitriadis, the general secretary of the prime minister’s office who was invested with exclusive oversight of the national intelligence service, EYP, after it emerged that Nikos Androulakis, the leader of the socialist party Pasok, had been followed.

Androulakis, an MEP, was put under surveillance before his election as head of Pasok, the country’s third biggest political force. Subsequently, it was revealed that he had also been targeted with Israeli-made spyware known as Predator.

Mitsotakis described the monitoring as illegal and wrong, saying he would never have approved of it had he known. But the revelation was quick to highlight the Greek leader’s controversial decision to put EYP under his office’s control days after winning power.

From the outset, the government has denied purchasing, or using, Predator. The malware is capable of turning a mobile phone into a listening device that can activate microphones and cameras.

But with evidence of victims being targeted with both, Greek authorities have focused on the spyware and traditional wire tapping methods as part of a burgeoning investigation into the affair.

The revelations have dented what had been a double-digit lead for New Democracy over Syriza as Greece gears up for general elections in the spring.

In December, as the government sought to limit the damage, a law was passed not only reforming EYP but prohibiting the sale of spyware after a leftist newspaper, Documento, reported that more than 30 people, including journalists, had been under state surveillance via phone malware. Last week, the list grew as the investigative media outlet Inside Story revealed that more than 20 other leading figures had been tracked by Predator.

Earlier this month, Mitsotakis admitted the eavesdropping scandal had been the “biggest mistake” of his near four-year tenure. On Wednesday, Tsipras said the independent body tasked with ensuring communication security and privacy (ADAE) had confirmed a cabinet minister and senior figures in the armed forces had also been placed under surveillance.

He identified the targets as the labour minister, the head of the national defence general staff, the former head of the army, a former national security adviser and the former and current heads of defence armament procurements. “What national security reason was there to place the guardians of our national security under surveillance?” Tsipras asked.

Greece has been singled out for censure by the European parliament committee of inquiry, known as Pega, investigating the growing use of spyware by European governments. “In any other country the prime minister would have resigned,” said Stelios Kouloglou, a leftist Syriza MEP who sits on the committee. “This has been a big political embarrassment for this Greek government and a very big embarrassment for Mitsotakis, personally, in the EU.”


Helena Smith in Athens

The GuardianTramp

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