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PEGA urges Greek gov’t to dig harder on phone surveillance scandal

PEGA, the European parliamentary committee investigating the use of spyware in the 27-country bloc urged Greek officials on Friday to do more to shed light on a phone surveillance scandal that targeted opposition politicians and journalists.

“We learnt a lot but we also still feel that a lot of our questions remain to be answered,” committee head Jeroen Lenaers said after a fact-finding visit to Greece and fellow European Union member Cyprus.

And the committee rapporteur, Sophie in ’t Veld, said while no definite proof emerged as to who installed and used Predator spyware on the Greek victims’ phones, and why, “everything is pointing in the direction of people in government circles.”

The scandal, which shook the government this year, centered on the EYP secret service’s tapping opposition party leader Nikos Androulakis’ phone. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ center-right said he was unaware of the operation, which he said was legal – on national security grounds – but wrong. EYP’s chief and a close Mitsotakis aide resigned.

Apart from EYP, Androulakis, head of the left-wing PASOK party – the country’s third-largest – was separately targeted with Predator spyware, as were another opposition lawmaker and three journalists. The government denies using Predator.

Last month a Greek parliamentary committee investigated Androulakis’ surveillance but its overall conclusions remain classified.

Lenaers, a Dutch European lawmaker, said the Greek parliament’s investigation “[uncovered] only few facts and did not hear from all the relevant witnesses.”

“The final committee report should be made public,” he told a press conference.

In ’t Veld said her committee had not found definite proof of who used Predator and why.

“And we will not find that proof as long as the authorities are not willing to share official information with us,” she said, but added: “Everything is pointing in the direction of people in government circles.”

In ’t Veld also charged that Greek authorities hadn’t made much of an effort to investigate the use of the spyware.

In ’t Veld said her committee had not found definite proof of who used Predator and why.

“And we will not find that proof as long as the authorities are not willing to share official information with us,” she said, but added: “Everything is pointing in the direction of people in government circles.”

In ’t Veld also charged that Greek authorities hadn’t made much of an effort to investigate the use of the spyware.

“On the contrary, most relevant information has been classified,” she said. “This matter must be urgently and fully clarified before” Greece’s next parliamentary election, scheduled for mid-2023.

Developed by Israel’s NSO Group, Pegasus can breach mobile phones and extract text messages, passwords, locations and microphone and camera recordings. It’s marketed as a tool against crime but many cases have been discovered of countries using it against dissidents, journalists and political opponents.

In Europe, cybersleuths have found traces of Pegasus or other spyware in Poland, Hungary and Spain.

“I think it’s safe to say the situation in Greece is not comparable to Hungary and Poland,” Lenaers said. He said that in Poland, where Pegasus use was traced, “we definitely see a complete lack of any kind of checks and balances.”

“This is not at the moment the case in Greece, but … there are urgent questions (that) need clarifications and there need to be full investigations,” he said.

The government has said it will increase accountability at EYP and plans to ban the use of spyware by private entities in Greece. [AP

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