Probe into phone spying begins

An urgent judicial investigation began yesterday into finding out who tapped the cell phones of the Prime Minister and much of his Cabinet while the mobile telephony company at the center of the maelstrom said the suicide of one of its employees last year had nothing to do with the matter. Magistrate Giorgos Aktipis was yesterday given the task of discovering who tapped the phones of key government and defense officials and how they managed to do it without being caught. Aktipis has been instructed to look into not just the breach of privacy laws but also the possibility that espionage was involved and that state secrets were compromised. Fifteen people gave evidence in a preliminary investigation, including top government officials and officers from the National Intelligence Agency (EYP). Giorgos Koronias, the CEO of Vodafone in Greece - where the spy software had been installed - also answered questions. Sources said Koronias defended his decision to deactivate the software, saying he did so to protect the privacy of Vodafone customers. On Thursday the government said that once the software stopped working it was impossible for authorities to trace where the calls were being monitored. The unidentified eavesdroppers had installed the software on Vodafone's central system. It allowed calls to and from around 100 numbers to be diverted to 14 pay-as-you-go mobile phones, from which conversations could then be recorded. Technicians from Swedish mobile phone firm Ericsson, which supplies Vodafone with its technology, discovered the software on March 7 last year. Vodafone deactivated the program the next day and then informed the government. The mobile telephone company issued a statement yesterday denying any link between the suicide of a top technician at the company on March 9 of last year and the phone tapping. The man, whose initials have been given as KT, apparently hanged himself even though friends and family said he had shown no signs of being troubled. Sources said that shortly before committing suicide KT had his resignation turned down by Vodafone. A prosecutor is now examining the circumstances surrounding his death. The government attempted to quell speculation yesterday that foreign agents were behind the eavesdropping. Engineers discovered that the 14 receiving phones were using four mobile telephone masts within a radius of some 2 kilometers in central Athens. The location of the snooping phones has given rise to speculation that American secret agents were involved, since the US Embassy is within the area defined by the four masts. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos categorically denied that US officials were responsible for the phone tapping. «Relations between Greece and the USA are, and remain, good,» said Roussopoulos. He also rejected assertions that the government had indirectly tried to finger the US Embassy by revealing the location of the mobile phone masts. The government also sought to allay fears that national security had been put at risk by the recording of potentially sensitive conversations. «[The phone tapping] did not affect the defense or security of our country,» said Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos - one of those whose phone was tapped. «All the Defense Ministry communication that has do to with matters of national security or classified information is done through secure lines and handsets.» Three left-wing activists and a journalist who were on the list of 46 names of people whose phones were tapped said yesterday that they would sue Vodafone and the Greek State for breach of their privacy and for failure to track those responsible. Nikos Sifakakis of the Stop the War coalition, who was also spied on, said he would take legal action as well. «The reality is that the government has a huge responsibility because it is breaching the constitution,» said PASOK MP Evangelos Venizelos. Sources said the Socialists are considering asking for a parliamentary committee to be formed to examine the matter. Synaspismos Left Coalition leader Alekos Alavanos accused the ruling conservatives of keeping «the Greek people and other political parties in the dark.»