Ten days after PASOK-KINAL leader Nikos Androulakis filed suit in the Greek Supreme Court (Areios Pagos) over the hacking of his telephone, after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ Chief of Staff, Grigoris Dimitriadis, and the chief of the country’s EYP intelligence agency, Panagiotis Kontoleon, tendered their resignations.
Today’s events have triggered a major government damage control operation and a political uproar, with opposition parties declaring that the sackings are a direct admission of guilt and demanding the PM’s resignation and immediate elections.
Government sources leaked to the media that the PM is determined to serve out his term and snap elections are still out of the question, but many now doubt that.
Government spokesman Yannis Economou said today that the ruling party accepts PASOK-KINAL’s demand for a parliamentary probe and a reconvening of the parliamentary committee on institutions and transparency to re-examine possible political involvement in the case.
Main opposition SYRIZA and other opposition party are directly blaming Mitsotakis for the surveillance, as he is the first prime minister to have placed EYP under the direct supervision and authority of the PM’s office.
The attempted hacking of Androulakis phone, reportedly with the Predator spyware programme, was detected by the services of the European Parliament, of which he remains a member, and dates, as he said, to September, 2021.
Government implies PM was unaware of the operation
Although outgoing spy chief Kontoleon has taken full responsibility for the surveillance, which the government maintains was conducted completely legally with a prosecutor’s order, Dimitriadis’ resignation suggests that he was aware of the operation and appears to imply that he had not informed the prime minister.
It is unclear on what possible grounds and suspicions an Athens prosecutor would grant approval for the surveillance of a member of the European Parliament, who soon afterwards was a candidate for the leadership of the country’s third largest party.
The problem is the political environment
The government’s narrative in leaks to the press is that the EYP chief’s resignation is due to the “toxicity” prevailing in the country’s political life after the revelations about the hacking of Androulakis’ phone, and of others, including at least one journalist, who have charged that Predator spyware was used to hack their phones as well.
In April, inside story.gr reported that the phone of journalist Thanasis Koukakis, who has worked for the Financial Times and CNBC, was infected by Predator spyware for a period of at least two months.
At the time, amidst a spate of allegations that EYP was behind the surveillance, Koukakis had disputed the assertion of Government Spokesman Yannis Economou that private individuals were behind the hacking, and he said he would await the report from a probe by the Authority for the Protection of Communications Confidentiality (ADAE).
The report has yet to be issued.
SYRIZA’s Political Secretariat will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow and is expected to approve Androulakis’ demand for a parliamentary probe, and it will reportedly discuss the prospect of the main opposition party tabling a no-confidence motion against the Mitsotakis government in Parliament.
A parliamentary probe would be conducted after a plenary session Parliament reconvenes in September.
PM’s office attributes sackings to ‘political toxicity’
Though he has continually declared his intention of serving out his term, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said in the past that he would call early elections only if an environment of “political toxicity” gets out of hand, hindering the work of the government.
That is precisely the phrase that the PM’s office used in spinning the sacking of the PM’s closest associate and his spy chief (who officially resigned).
Government sources say Dimtriadis – and by extension the PM – was “targeted” by certain mainly political circles, that this produced a “heavy climate”, and that his resignation was the best way to shield the PM from accusations of complicity, but opposition parties insist, on the contrary, that it was a direct admission of guilt, especially since EYP reports directly to the PM’s office.
The same sources insist that Dimitriadis had no involvement in the Androulakis affair but that he resigned in order to calm the political atmosphere and not to allow the opposition to capitalise on it.
‘Resignation after wrong actions’ in legal framework
The announcement from the PM’s office said that the spy chief’s resignation was due to ‘wrong actions’ in the context of legal surveillance of Androulakis with a prosecutor’s order.
No explanation has been offered regarding the rationale of the order.
The government also said that State Minister Yorgos Gerapetritis, one of the PM’s closest advisors, had offered to brief Androulakis -its is unclear on what aspect of the case – but that he refused.
Tsipras: Mitsotakis’ ‘admission of guilt’
For his part, Tsipras pointed the finger directly at the PM.
“The resounding resignations under the weight of the hackings scandal constitute an admission of guilt and confirm the responsibilities of the prime minister himself. Mr, Mitsotakis has an obligation to offer an explanation to the Greek people regarding his own ‘Watergate’. It is an issue of democracy,” Tsipras wrote in a tweet.