The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemns the multi-million-euro legal action taken against media and journalists by the nephew of the country’s prime minister over their revelations about his connections to the ‘Predatorgate’ spyware scandal and renews its calls for measures to combat vexatious lawsuits against the press in Greece.
On 24 November, Grigoris Dimitriadis, who previously served as general secretary of the prime minister’s office, filed a defamation lawsuit against newspaper EfSyn, three executives from the newspaper, as well as three journalists from investigative media Reporters United: Nikolas Leontopoulos, Thodoris Chondrogiannos and Christoforos Kasdaglis.
Dimitriadis, who belongs to the powerful Mitsotakis family and used to politically oversee the Greek National Security Agency (EYP), has demanded a total of €3.3 million from all the defendants in compensation, among other claims, for alleged defamation and moral damages allegedly suffered due to the reporting by EfSyn and the journalists of Reporters United.
The lawsuit is the latest element of Dimitriadis’s legal response to reporting about his alleged involvement in the Predator surveillance scandal. It follows a similar lawsuit filed in 2022 against some of the same defendants, which international media freedom organisations characterized at the time as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).
The new lawsuit stemmed from joint publication on 3 November 2023, entitled “Predator Files: From the number of Grigoris Dimitriadis with love”. It revealed for the first time that Dimitriadis’s mobile phone number had been used to send messages with a link infected with illegal Predator spyware to 11 targets in Greece. At the time the messages were sent, Dimitriadis was serving in the prime minister’s office and oversaw the EYP.
The report was based on the detailed investigation of the Greek Data Protection Authority and the judicial authorities into the surveillance scandal, evidence of which the media acquired through sources. It was published by both Reporters United and EfSyn as part of the Predator Files investigation and was covered by a network of major media across Europe. None of those additional non-Greek media have been sued.
In the lawsuit, Dimitriadis claims he was not responsible and was unaware of the infected messages sent via a web-to-SMS service. He is seeking €250.000 for moral damages from all of the seven defendants. He further demanded that they refrain from any future insult to his reputation and requested that the court impose a fine of €100,000 for each violation of the law, totalling up to €700,000 or more. It also asked the court to convict the defendants and requested they publish the judgment of the court, with a maximum penalty of €50,000 if they fail to do so, for each defendant, totalling up to €350,000. Similar amounts are also claimed by Dimitriadis from Dimitris Terzis, another journalist of EfSyn, who also reported on the surveillance scandal.
All those named in the lawsuit have stood by the accuracy and public interest nature of their reporting and intend to fight the lawsuit in court. They stress that at no point did they suggest Dimitriadis was responsible for sending the messages himself and stated clearly in the report that there was no evidence for this. So far, the judicial investigation has not identified the sender of the infected messages.
EfSyn and Reporters United are simultaneously fighting a separate lawsuit filed by Dimitriadis. After they first revealed his alleged involvement in the surveillance scandal in 2022, he resigned from his position as general secretary in the prime minister’s office on 5 August. The very same day, he filed his first defamation lawsuit against EfSyn, Reporters United and their journalists Nikolas Leontopoulos and Thodoris Chondrogiannos, as well as journalist Thanasis Koukakis.
IPI and other media freedom groups criticized that lawsuit as retaliatory in nature and unfounded in merit and characterized it as a SLAPP, a form of lawfare aimed at suffocating public interest journalism. This lawsuit is still pending at first instance and will be heard on 25 January 2023. The MFRR consortium provided support to cover legal fees of the media outlets. In 2022, Dimitriadis was awarded the ‘SLAPP Politician of the Year Award’ 2022 by the CASE Coalition at its European Anti-SLAPP contest.
IPI believes this latest lawsuit also bears many characteristics of a SLAPP. We therefore call on Dimitriadis to withdraw both lawsuits and to refrain from taking frivolous legal actions against individual journalists or media in the future. As noted by the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers, this lawsuit appears to be unfounded and aimed at stifling watchdog reporting on a matter of clear public interest.
IPI notes that Dimitriadis has been shown in multiple other reports to have been connected to a network of businesspeople and companies linked with the spyware company Intellexa, which at the time marketed Predator spyware in Greece and had an office in Athens. Revelations by media have shown how legal wiretapping by the EYP had in some cases been followed immediately by spyware surveillance using Predator, which was illegal in Greece at the time, indicating a pattern of coordination in surveillance and pointing to the involvement of the state. The Greek government and the Prime Minister have repeatedly denied the government was involved in illegal surveillance, though it admitted the EYP had been wrong to legally surveil opposition leader Nikos Androulakis. Authorities continue to deny that the intelligence agency had any involvement with Predator or connection to Intellexa and has since passed a law explicitly criminalizing the use of spyware by any actor in Greece.
During a recent press freedom mission to Athens co-organised by IPI, our organization met with journalists who had been surveilled using both illegal spyware and legal wiretapping techniques. No accountability has been achieved for these violations of source protection and journalistic rights, despite ongoing criminal cases. Through the MFRR project, IPI has helped fund the legal challenge by one spyware victim, journalist Thanasis Koukakis, to seek remedy at the European Court of Human Rights. In 2022, IPI also organized a spyware testing session for Greek journalists, in cooperation with cyber security forensics laboratory Citizen Lab.
IPI will continue to help all those journalists in Greece who were targeted by both SLAPPs and the illegal surveillance, and will continue to push for reforms to protect journalists from both of these threats at the domestic and European level.
This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries, and Ukraine. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.