Letter from... Athens - Observer
Hollywood rubs its hands at big fat Greek Watergate
Helena SmithSunday May 7, 2006
And now for the blockbuster.
After buffeting Athens for nearly four months, the seamy story of intrigue and espionage that has implicated the Greek government and portable phone operator Vodafone has been pinpointed by Hollywood for the big screen.
A leading US film company has dispatched scouts to the capital to see whether the film can be made in situ and whether any of the cast of characters are willing to be involved. These, so far, include Greece's Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, most of his cabinet, the heads of the armed forces, human rights groups, journalists and a host of Arab businessmen.
All share the same fate of having had their mobile phones monitored, by 'persons unknown', both before and after the 2004 Olympic Games. The unnamed film company believes the scandal has all the ingredients of a big spy thriller. The discovery of the illegal wiretaps, and the ruling conservatives' decision to go public, has provided a snapshot of the underhand methods of intelligence services rarely seen in the real world. 'They're calling it "Watergate, made in Greece",' says one insider.
If made, the movie would capture a period of extraordinary dealings for mobile giant Vodafone, whose Greek CEO, George Koronia, has been approached to participate. Greece's independent telecoms watchdog, ADAE, recently issued a withering verdict on Vodafone's role in the imbroglio, claiming the company not only concealed information but erased evidence of its own involvement by destroying the logs of staff visitors to at least one of its four bugged communication centres.
The watchdog also revealed that Vodafone's network planning manager, Costas Tsalikides, who was found hanged in his bathroom a day after the discovery of the listening devices, had overseen delivery of software from Ericsson that had enabled the operator to conduct legally sanctioned surveillance. Previously, Koronia had denied that the Greek subsidiary had possessed such equipment. Last week, ADAE made more incendiary.
Pronouncements, saying that the Vodafone mobile phones that intercepted the calls had received text messages from the UK, the USA, Australia and Sweden - an oblique reference to 'foreign secret services'.
Since the government went public on it, the UK-based firm has fiercely rejected allegations of a link between the technician's death and the wiretaps discovery.
The facts behind Tsalikides' death are seen as key to solving the spy scandal, the biggest to rock Greece since the Second World War. Speculation is rife that the brilliant, British-trained technician was either forced to take his life, or murdered after finding the devices. His family has demanded that the 39-year-old's body be examined by a leading American forensic pathologist.
On Friday, the plot thickened amid revelations that Tsalikides' home phone had been monitored both before and after his death.
The family's lawyer, Themis Sofos, is to file a suit against Vodafone and its Greek CEO for withholding 'vital evidence', including emails written by the technician. 'I'm convinced Costas was murdered. We have hired our own software specialists who have gone through Costas' notebooks and it does seem that he accidentally stumbled across the illegal devices in the Vodafone network,' said the lawyer.