Mon, Feb 06, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Suicide complicates Greek mobile phone spying conundrum


The suicide of a Greek telecommunications expert added to the murkiness surrounding the explosive revelations that eavesdroppers listened in on Greece's entire political and military elite, including the prime minister, for almost a year.

The death of Kostas Tsalikides, 39, who took his own life last March, a day after the discovery of sophisticated spy software at the mobile telephone operator Vodafone, has deepened the mystery of how 100 mobile phones, belonging to senior officials, were tapped in the run-up to the Athens Olympic Games. By hanging himself from his loft, the British-trained technician may have taken the secrets of Greece's Watergate to his grave.

"His suicide conceals many unanswered questions," wrote Ta Nea, the newspaper that broke the story last week. The extraordinary timing of the death, a day before Vodafone reported the surveillance system to the Greek government, had unleashed "all kinds of scenarios," the newspaper said. As the mobile company's network planning manager, he was best placed to know who installed the software, insiders claim.

"We found no suicide note," said Tsalikides's brother, Panayiotis. "He had no health problems, was about to marry and was doing very well at work."

Even by the standards of scandal-prone Greece, the wiretaps revelations have been met with disbelief. Among those targeted by the eavesdroppers were the foreign, defense and public order ministers, as well as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the leadership of the armed forces. Others included civil rights activists, the head of the "stop the war" coalition, journalists and Arabs based in Athens.

According to the government, which caused as much commotion with its abrupt decision to inform the public last Thursday, the monitoring began in June 2004, peaked around the August Olympic Games, and continued to March 2005 when the illicit system was uncovered following a barrage of operational complaints from customers.

The hi-tech software enabled phone conversations to be diverted to a set of 14 "shadow" mobile phones which then relayed them to a recording system. Officials say the calls were intercepted on mobile phones picked up by antennae in an area close to the US embassy.

"This is all like something out of science fiction," said the Socialist opposition leader George Papandreou.

Why had Vodafone unilaterally deactivated the system, he asked, making it impossible for the authorities to trace where the calls were being monitored?

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