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Eavesdroppers tapped the mobile phones of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, cabinet ministers and security officials for about a year around the time of the Athens Olympics, according to Greek ministers. The mobile phones of approximately 100 people (whose ranks include journalists and Arabs living in Greece, as well as the country's political and security elite) were monitored after snooping software was illegally installed on the systems of Vodafone Greece, the country's second largest mobile operator. Spyware enabled phone conversations from Vodafone subscribers to be diverted to 14 'shadow' pay-as-you-go mobile phones and relayed to a recording system, The Observer reports.

News of the phone-tapping conspiracy (described in some quarters as a Greek Watergate) broke after a story in Athens daily Ta Nea last week prompting an official government statement and promises of a full judicial investigation. Speculation that foreign intelligence agencies orchestrated the spying is running rife, with the US featuring as chief suspects.

The Greek government reportedly first learned of the spying in March 2005, following a tip-off from Vodafone Greece that complaints from unnamed customers over problems with their mobile were traced back to eavesdropping software. Opposition social democrats have criticised the government's response since then, accusing the government (whose ministers were the main target of the snooping operation) of a cover-up.

Part of the government's investigation will re-examine the supposed suicide of Kostas Tsalikidis, 39, Vodafone Greece’s head of network design. Tsalikidis was found hanged in his Athens flat on March 9, only two days after Vodafone Greece had identified and removed the eavesdropping software from its systems, The Times reports. ®

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