Thanassis Stavrakis  /  AP
Greek Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis holds a diagram showing how government mobile phone calls were diverted through spy software, during a Thursday press conference in Athens.
updated 2/2/2006 10:04:45 PM ET 2006-02-03T03:04:45

Mobile phones belonging to top Greek military and government officials — including the prime minister — and the U.S. Embassy were tapped for nearly a year beginning in the weeks before the 2004 Olympic games, the government said Thursday.

It was not known who was responsible for the taps, which numbered about 100 and included Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis and his wife, and the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, public order and justice. Most of Greece’s top military and police officers were also targeted, as were foreign ministry officials and a U.S. Embassy number. Also tapped were some phones of journalists and human rights activists.

The phone tapping “started before the 2004 Olympic Games and probably continued until March 2005, when it was discovered,” government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said at a news conference.

Roussopoulos said it had not been possible to identify who was behind the tapping.

“It was an unknown individual, or individuals, who used high technology,” he said.

Cell-phone software the culprit
Roussopoulos said the surveillance was carried out through spy software installed in the central system of Vodafone, the mobile telephony provider that served the targets.

Calls were then diverted to mobile phones using pay-as-you-go services, which are difficult to trace.

An investigation showed that these mobiles had been used in a central Athens area where many foreign embassies are located, though Roussopoulos refused to speculate on whether foreign agencies might be involved.

“I estimate that no harm was caused to our national issues,” Roussopoulos said. “The prime minister does not just use one mobile phone.”

He said the government first heard of the tapping in March 2005, when it was tipped off by Vodafone Greece CEO Giorgos Koronias.

Vodafone — one of the country’s four mobile telephony providers — discovered the tapping after receiving complaints from customers over problems operating their phones.

Koronias issued a statement saying the company removed the spyware immediately after it was located, and informed the competent state authorities. The identities of the complainants were not immediately known.

Opposition calls for investigation
The main opposition PASOK party accused the governing conservatives of delaying its response, and called for a full investigation.

“The government knew how serious the case was but failed to inform ... the people who were under observation,” party spokesman Nikos Athanassakis said.

A socialist former defense minister was on the list of targets.

Athens prosecutor Dimitris Papangelopoulos brought misdemeanor charges of breaching the privacy of phone calls against “unknown persons” earlier Thursday, the justice minister said.

The prosecutor will also investigate whether there are grounds for bringing criminal charges of espionage, the minister said.

The government pledged the inquiry would be full and fair. “The executive branch will not interfere in any way with the due process that has been followed by the judiciary from the first moment,” said Panos Livadas, general secretary at the ministry of state. “Due process has been and will be followed.”

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