The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Greek Watergate’ wiretap scandal throws government into turmoil

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece's prime minister, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in May. (Hollie Adams/Bloomberg News)
3 min

Recent revelations that Greek intelligence tapped an opposition leader’s phone have left the embattled prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, struggling to fend off a mounting scandal ahead of next year’s elections.

Mitsotakis has denied knowledge of the incident and called the actions of the National Intelligence Service, or EYP, “politically unacceptable.”

The turmoil, which one political party referred to as “Greek Watergate,” has already forced the intelligence chief and a close aide of the prime minister’s to resign. Parliament is cutting short its summer recess, and Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou has called for an investigation, saying in a statement Tuesday that individual privacy was “a fundamental condition of a democratic and liberal society.”

“What took place may have been lawful, but it was a mistake,” Mitsotakis said Monday in a televised address to the nation. “I did not know, and obviously I would have never allowed it.”

The scandal first broke last week when Nikos Androulakis, leader of the PASOK socialist party, announced that the European Parliament had informed him of an attempted hack on his phone using Predator spyware.

Androulakis, who is also a member of the European Parliament, said that he contacted the institution’s cybersecurity service after receiving a suspicious message on his phone. In an address Friday, he said he later learned that the EYP was listening to his conversations over a three-month period in 2021, when he was campaigning for the PASOK party leadership.

“I never expected the Greek government to put me under surveillance with the darkest practices,” Androulakis said, according to the Associated Press.

Mitsotakis has vowed to strengthen the EYP’s legal framework and transparency mechanisms. The agency reports directly to the prime minister’s office, and any surveillance must be approved by a prosecutor.

Earlier this year, two Greek journalists filed similar complaints of being monitored by the EYP. The European Parliament in March decided to investigate the use of spyware, including against citizens, officials and journalists in European Union member states.

Predator was developed by Cytrox, a North Macedonian start-up purchased by former Israeli intelligence officer and entrepreneur Tal Dilian in 2019. Researchers say it is comparable to the Pegasus software developed by Israel’s NSO Group and can harvest messages and other information from a target’s cellphone.

Private Israeli spyware used to hack cellphones of journalists, activists worldwide

“European governments are lending legitimacy to [spyware] vendors — companies that are built around selling to abusers,” said John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at the Citizen Lab research group at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

It is typical for spyware abuse revelations to reflect a broader pattern, Railton said. “If there is one case, there are probably many more,” he said.

Elinda Labropoulou in Athens contributed to this report.