Handling of phone-tapping crisis prompts more questions as government tries to avert greater diplomatic problems

The government is trying to avert wider diplomatic fallout from the recent revelations about widespread phone-tapping that reached even the prime minister. On the fringes of the government camp, however, there is grave concern over the broad way the issue was handled. In addition, the fact that three ministers – Public Order, Defense, and State – handled the matter jointly has led to conflict among cabinet members and angered senior officials who had not been informed earlier. Most sources believe that even though the issue is more complex and goes much further than similar cases in the past, since it is most likely linked to the activities of foreign secret services, the greatest revelation has been the fact of the phone-tapping itself. The greatest uproar appears to have been over Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis saying during the press conference that the snooping appeared based in an area of Athens that includes the American embassy. This drew a strong denial from Washington and from Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, who is well aware that 2006 is a crucial year for Greece’s foreign affairs as Athens seeks greater cooperation with significant world partners. According to well-informed sources, Molyviatis spoke to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis Thursday night to draw his attention to the threat to relations with the US, particularly at this crucial phase. According to the same sources, Karamanlis authorized Molyviatis alone to deal with the issue at the diplomatic level. On Friday Molyviatis made statements rejecting that there were any problems in relations with other countries over the issue. Equally displeased – angry, according to some sources – is Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis, who first heard of the matter on Thursday morning. Liapis reportedly apprised the prime minister of his displeasure, saying it was inconceivable that the relevant minister (himself) should have no say in the matter. Meanwhile, opinions differ within the ruling party over the fallout, particularly over the possible involvement of foreign secret services. Over the past few days there have been a many caustic comments over the role of State Minister Theodoros Roussopoulos. According to some sources, ministers and other officials whose names are on the list of people whose phones were tapped have attacked Voulgarakis and Roussopoulos because they handled the issue without informing the ministers for foreign affairs, defense and transport. Some people appear to doubt the wisdom of publicizing the issue. Others, such as Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis and EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, reportedly believe that what has been revealed has raised many questions. They have expressed surprise because they weren’t informed they were the victims of phone tapping. «If we hadn’t announced it ourselves, we would soon have been called upon to prove we weren’t trying to cover it up,» associates of the prime minister replied, indicating that the issue had been handled from the top and by one or even several ministers. The same sources emphasized that the secrecy had lasted many months precisely because so few people knew about it and that the case had boosted the image of the prime minister and his government, who have been lauded for the open way they have handled the issue. Another major source of conflict within the ruling party has been the government’s stance towards the mobile phone company Vodafone, particularly its CEO Giorgos Koronias. There has been criticism of Voulgarakis for describing Koronias’s behavior as responsible and serious, and some wonder why Vodafone has not been sued. There seems to be general agreement, meanwhile, that the entire snooping operation would have been very difficult to set up without the cooperation of the firm’s technicians.

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