"Greek Watergate" scandal sends political shockwaves

Feb. 03, 2006

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece reeled on Friday from revelations that unknown eavesdroppers listened in on the prime minister and other top officials for months in a scandal the press dubbed the "Greek Watergate".

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the foreign, defence and public order ministers were among about 100 people whose mobile phones were tapped for months around the time of the 2004 Athens Olympics, the conservative government said on Thursday.

Opposition parties reacted angrily, saying the government was unable to defend national security or citizen's rights and demanded a deeper investigation into the affair, which was handed to a public prosecutor for possible espionage charges.

"This is the tip of the iceberg of the lack of transparency and decay," said Socialist opposition leader George Papandreou.

The Greek media raised questions about the handling of the case.

"Questions and half truths" said the daily To Vima in a front page headline, echoing most other Greek dailies, which said the government's investigation had shed little light.

On Thursday, the government said illegal software installed at Greece's second biggest mobile phone operator, Vodafone Greece, allowed calls to and from scores of mobile phones to be recorded from June 2004 until March 2005.

Most of the wiretaps took place around the August 2004 Athens Olympics -- the most guarded Games in history with a 1.2 billion euro ($1.45 billion) security budget.

They stopped when Vodafone Greece, a subsidiary of British firm Vodafone, discovered the incident and reported it to authorities. Greek officials said that by shutting down the illegal software, Vodafone made it impossible to trace the taps.

They also revealed that the calls were being relayed to unknown destinations via four mobile phone antennas in a zone in the centre of Athens that includes the U.S. embassy.

The list of those tapped included mainly government officials involved in national security, journalists, peace activists and people of Arab descent. One mobile phone belonged to the U.S. embassy, which has declined to comment on the case.

The government defended its response, saying it had done everything in its power to uncover the case.

"The government handled an issue of the highest national security in an impeccable way," said Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis.

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