Greek Government faces no-confidence vote over spyware scandal

Greek Government faces no-confidence vote over spyware scandal
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The embattled Greek Government will face a no-confidence vote over an ongoing spyware scandal after opposition leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras submitted the motion on Wednesday in the Hellenic Parliament.

Since August last year, the centre-right government led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been plagued by accusations of spying on opposition politicians, journalists and business leaders. The far-reaching surveillance operation was carried out through phone tapping with Predator spyware.

Tsipras, whose own Syriza party members (The Left) have been infected with the spyware, submitted the motion “for the defence of democracy, transparency and justice.” He added that Mitsotakis “will be forced to come to Parliament – even if he constantly wants to run away – to give explanations, to be accountable, to answer questions.”

Mitsotakis has been accused of running away from accountability since the scandal broke. He has feigned ignorance of the surveillance operation with Greek media and the European Parliament Pegasus Committee despite having brought the intelligence services under his control. After the scandal broke, he insisted the tapping was legal. 

Opposition leader and former PM Alexis Tsipras. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tsipras, however, accused Mitsotakis of “setting up an Orwellian dystopia” and of spearheading a “criminal network” through phone tapping. He called the spying practice "the deepest deviation from rule of law that the country has seen in its modern history," adding they had a "historic duty" to act. 

The vote will be held following a three-day debate in parliament which began on Wednesday evening. Even if it may force Mitsotakis to finally face fellow MPs over the scandal, the motion is not expected to pass. The governing New Democracy party (European People's Party – EPP) enjoy a comfortable majority with 156 of parliament’s 300 seats. The move comes ahead of Greece’s planned elections later this year.

Spying scandal of political opponents

The scandal first broke in August when Mitsotakis and his government were caught tapping people’s phones through the Predator software. The practice was exposed by a routine cybersecurity check on the phone of a Greek MEP, Nikos Androulakis, by the IT services of the European Parliament in Brussels. The extent of the wiretapping was subsequently exposed as more people were found to have been infected by spyware software. 

Credit: Andreas Trepte/Creative Commons

The extent of the spyware operation was much larger than first suspected, with Mitsotakis allegedly having allowed the wiretapping of his own ministers, opposition MPs from the left-wing Syriza party, journalists, business CEOs – but also the spouses of the Ministers of Tourism, Development and Labour.

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Once infected, Predator can record messages and calls, access passwords and see the device's web browsing history. In November 2022, Greece's Ministry of Digital Governance was exposed by a Greek newspaper Vilma for having authorised spyware developers Intellexa to sell the Predator software in the country.

Pegasus Committee

The European Parliament Pegasus Committee has also been investigating the case, and this week it urged the government to allow the Greek authorities and Europol to properly investigate the claims. Furthermore, it also called for reversing the move which brought the country’s intelligence services under the auspices of the Prime Minister, a law brought in by Mitsotakis himself in 2019.  

The committee is investigating breaches of EU law through the use of spyware in Poland, Hungary, Greece, Spain and Cyprus and also found that Intellexa companies based in Greece were reportedly exporting their products to Bangladesh, Sudan, Madagascar and at least one Arab country.

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