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Vodafone fined €76m over Greek wiretap scandal

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Greece's privacy watchdog has fined Vodafone €76m ($100m) over a wiretapping scandal that saw the illegal monitoring of the mobile calls of top government officials including Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

Vodafone was ruled at fault for not preventing unknown hackers from subverting a legitimate surveillance system, supplied by Swedish firm Ericsson, to spy on Greek officials around the time of the 2004 Athens Olympics. The mobile operator said that the investigation was incomplete because officials were yet to question Ericsson. It plans to appeal the ruling.

"Vodafone announced that it fully rejects the rationale of the authority and considers the penalty illegal, unfair and totally groundless," Vodafone Greece said in a statement, AP reports. "Vodafone will seek recourse with the judiciary against the decision and is certain it will be overturned."

Investigators failed to determine who was behind phone taps targeting more than 100 Vodafone users including government ministers, military officials and journalists between around June 2004 until March 2005, when Vodafone dismantled the systems after the security breach was uncovered. Calls from and to targeted phones were relayed to 16 mobile phones using pre-paid cards, located in central Athens, thanks to unauthorised manipulation of the Ericsson-supplied surveillance software used by Vodafone Greece.

The Hellenic Authority for the Information and Communication Security and Privacy criticised Vodafone for obstructing its investigation by failing to own up about the surveillance system itself.

Greece's parliament has also launched a separate investigation into the wiretapping scandal. During a hearing earlier this year, the heads of the Greek arms of Vodafone and Ericsson pointed the finger of blame for the scandal at each other, AP adds. The parliamentary probe also looked into the death of a senior Greek Vodafone official, George Tsalikidis, who was found hanged in March, just before Vodafone briefed government officials about the role of the surveillance system in the scandal. A judicial investigation failed to uncover any link between the suspected suicide and the scandal, the FT adds. ®

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