April 19. 2024. 7:45

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EXCLUSIVE: EU Prosecutor probes Greek ‘Predatorgate’

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) has launched an investigation into the use of illegal Predator spyware in a wiretapping scandal that has shaken Greek politics, EURACTIV has learnt.

Several sources confirmed to EURACTIV that upon the request of the European Parliament’s PEGA Committee, the inquiry committee investigating the use of illegal spyware across the bloc, the EPPO has launched an investigation into several aspects of the scandal.

The PEGA Committee inquiry has focused on the illegal export of Predator spyware from Greece to countries in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, as well as allegations that the companies involved in the so-called Predatorgate were engaged in tax evasion.

Contacted by EURACTIV, an EPPO spokesperson refused to confirm or deny that there is an ongoing investigation.

“As a general rule, we do not comment on ongoing investigations, nor do we publicly confirm which cases we are working on. This is so as not to endanger the ongoing procedures and their outcome,” the spokesperson told EURACTIV.

“Whenever we can say something about any of our investigations, we will do so proactively,” the spokesperson added.

Granting export licences

Two different sources told EURACTIV that the EU prosecutor has, in recent weeks, received specific information from Greek journalists investigating the wiretapping scandal.

“The persons who testified to the prosecutors submitted evidence proving that the administration of (Prime Minister) Kyriakos Mitsotakis facilitated the proliferation of Intellexa’s Predator spyware to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Madagascar, and Bangladesh by granting export licences through the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” one source close to the matter said.

The Greek government, in the beginning, denied any involvement.

But a few weeks later, government spokesperson Yannis Oikonomou admitted that the foreign ministry granted these licences and said that an investigation was launched on whether all the prescribed procedures were correctly followed.

The issue of granting export licences was first reported by investigative outlet Inside Story and the New York Times, prompting the European Commission to demand an explanation.

However, Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis revealed last week that the Greek authorities have not replied to a request for information sent on 14 February.

The conservative Greek government has also failed to provide answers to the PEGA Committee on the issue.

Meanwhile, Yannis Smyrlis, the former secretary general of the Greek foreign ministry who signed the illegal spyware export licences, resigned in late December and was quickly appointed deputy director of the ruling New Democracy party (EPP) ahead of a general election in May.

On a legal level, the EU prosecutor is examining whether the Greek government violated Regulation (EU) 2021/821 for the so-called “dual-use” products (i.e. products that require a special export licence because they can also be used in order to cause harm) to favour the Greek company Intellexa.

Both Dimitriadis and the then head of secret services resigned after it was revealed that Nikos Androulakis, an MEP and leader of the socialist Pasok party, was placed under surveillance in 2021 by the Greek intelligence service.

Mitsotakis said publicly he was not aware of this surveillance, but the opposition pointed out that one of the prime minister’s first moves early on in his premiership was to take the secret services under his direct supervision.

‘Enormous’ tax evasion

Another source told EURACTIV that the information received by EU prosecutor Laura Kövesi’s team in Athens reveals “enormous tax evasion” by the companies involved in the surveillance scandal.

“Undeclared payments, fake invoices and triangular transactions are some of the serious tax crimes which appear to have been committed by the Greek companies Intellexa and Krikel, the Irish company Thalestris, and by the Cypriot companies associated with them,” the second source said.

“Hundreds of fake invoices and tax statements have been submitted to the European Prosecutor to document fraud and how EU’s interests are affected,” the source added.

The evidence leads to Chadera Enterprises Limited, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, according to a document seen by EURACTIV.

Chadera belongs to Tal Dilian, a former Israeli army officer, who owns 65% of the Greek firm Intellexa. The remaining 35% of Intellexa belongs to the Cypriot company Santinomo Limited.

Last September, the Greek government denied submitting contracts signed between these companies and ministries at a parliamentary special inquiry committee on the wiretapping scandal.

Shareholders of Intellexa and Krikel did not attend hearings organised by the European Parliament’s PEGA committee. Meanwhile, in the case of the national inquiry committee, MPs from the ruling New Democracy party blocked attempts to invite the owners of Krikel and Intellexa.

The second source said that the suspicion of tax fraud automatically triggers the involvement of the EU prosecutor under a recent mutual cooperation agreement on combating financial crime signed between Greek tax authorities and the EPPO.

The source cited evidence showing that the bank accounts of Intellexa and Krikel show a “huge discrepancy between the income declared to the tax authorities and the money collected”.

A critical test for EU, Greek justice

EURACTIV contacted Greek investigative journalist Thanasis Koukakis – the first confirmed victim of Predator in Greece – who revealed that as early as spring 2022, he had been in touch with Kövesi’s office, flagging the importance of the case.

“By now, the journalistic investigation has progressed to such an extent that the involvement of the European Prosecutor’s Office was imperative. Mainly due to the relevant requests of the European Parliament,” Koukakis said.

He added that his “only reservation” relates to the willingness of the Greek judicial and prosecuting authorities to cooperate with Kövesi in good faith.

“At the same time, this case will be a hard first test for the quality and depth of the cooperation of the European Prosecutor’s Office with the Greek tax authorities”, the Greek journalist noted.

The EU Parliament’s PEGA committee has called on Greek authorities to resolve the wiretapping scandal before the elections, set for 21 May.

On Monday (3 April), Pasok leader Androulakis told the Greek prosecutor that processes needed to be sped up.

“This case will not be statute-barred either politically or criminally. And let those responsible be sure they will fully assume their responsibilities,” Androulakis said.

(Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com – Edited by Ben Fox – Zoran Radosavljevic)