Ericsson’s Greek branch fined over wire-tapping scandal

Greece's communication privacy watchdog on Wednesday fined the Greek branch of Swedish telecom equipment giant Ericsson 7.36 million euros (70 million kronor, $10 million dollars) in relation to a wire-tapping scandal in which even the Greek Prime Minister's cellphone was compromised.

The level of the fine against Ericsson Hellas was imposed bearing in mind the company’s turnover, the Greek authority on communication privacy (ADAE) said in a statement.

Uncovered in February 2006, the illicit network had tapped Vodafone cellphones containing Ericsson technology that were used by Greek PM Costas Karamanlis, his wife and several ministers from June 2004 to March 2005.

The tapping used software slipped into Vodafone’s network by unknown perpetrators to illegally activate an Ericsson-made module permitting call interception.

In total, the eavesdroppers targeted some 100 Vodafone cellphones, including some used by left-wing activists and citizens of apparent Arab origin.

The authority in December imposed a 76-million-euro fine on Vodafone’s own Greek subsidiary that the company rejects as “illegal, unfair and baseless”.

A Greek parliament committee collecting evidence on the case in November noted the involvement of three employees of telecoms giants Ericsson Hellas and Vodafone Greece, identified only by their initials.

“The whole system could not operate without Ericsson know-how and without access from within (Vodafone), ” the report said.

The parliamentary committee did not rule out the involvement of other people operating outside Greece.

But after questioning senior Ericsson and Vodafone staff, Greek secret service officers and ADAE, the committee determined the case was too technically complex for MPs to pursue.

The Greek justice department has also opened an investigation into the case, but nobody has yet been charged.

Days before the affair came to light, a senior Vodafone expert was found hanged inside his home.

A prosecutor said the death of Costas Tsalikidis, manager of Vodafone Greece’s network planning section, was linked to the case but suicide has been ruled out.

Tsalikidis’ family however suspects he was murdered.