NEWS

Wires becoming crossed in probe into phone-tapping

MPs tried again yesterday to get to the bottom of how some 100 mobile phones, including the prime minister’s, were tapped, but they appeared to be further perplexed by claims from the head of Ericsson Hellas that Vodafone, and not his company, was at fault. Bill Zikou, the managing director of the Greek subsidiary of the Swedish telecoms giant, was grilled for some eight hours by a parliamentary committee which is investigating how the phone tapping took place and who was behind it. Last week, CEO of Vodafone Greece Giorgos Koronias told deputies that only people working for Ericsson could have been involved in unlocking the system that allowed the phones of Costas Karamanlis, several ministers and top defense officials to be tapped. However, Zikou rebuffed these claims yesterday, saying that the eavesdroppers needed «knowledge of Ericsson system architecture and of source code» but it had been Vodafone’s responsibility to protect the software that was used to record conversations. Zikou said that Ericsson began delivering software in January 2003 which enabled the legal tapping of mobile phones. This appears to contradict Koronias’s suggestion last week that Vodafone did not receive the software. The program was apparently unlocked to allow the eavesdroppers to listen in on their targets. They activated the software before the 2004 Olympics. After being called in by Vodafone in March 2005, Ericsson technicians informed the mobile phone provider of the problem. The Ericsson chief left MPs in no doubt that he felt Vodafone was responsible for the breach of security. «Once we deliver something to a customer, it is their responsibility to protect it,» said Zikou. The executive, who was born in Greece but grew up in Australia, spoke to MPs through an interpreter. When asked who might have been involved in the tapping, he said it certainly was not Ericsson staff and that he could not rule out the involvement of Vodafone employees or Internet hackers. This caused some consternation among deputies since experts had appeared to rule out the possibility of an outsider hacking into the system. Zikou also suggested that it was possible Costas Tsalikidis, the Vodafone software engineer who committed suicide days after the snooping was discovered, may have known about the software. Swedish technicians who examined the spy software were amazed by its sophistication, according to Zikou. He suggested that whoever was behind the tapping had excellent knowledge of technical matters and a big budget.