World News

ECHR orders Greece to pay damages over probe of death in wiretap case

ATHENS (Reuters) - Europe’s top human rights court has faulted Greece for failing to fully investigate the death of a telecoms engineer in 2005 during a scandal over wiretapping of the country’s political leadership.

Costas Tsalikidis, 38, was found hanged in his apartment in Athens in March 2005, around the time that Vodafone Greece told authorities of widespread wiretapping of much of the government, including the prime minister, via Vodafone’s network.

Tsalikidis had worked for Vodafone.

On two occasions, Greek judicial authorities ruled out foul play related to Tsalikidis’s death. He did not leave a note and his family said he was not suicidal. They took the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

“The Court considers that the national authorities failed to carry out an adequate and effective investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Tsalikidis,” the Strasbourg-based court said in a ruling dated Nov. 16.

It ordered Greece to pay Tsalikidis’s family 50,000 euros in damages for the state’s failure to clarify circumstances surrounding his death.

“The Court observes, in particular, that the difficulty in determining whether there was any substance in the applicants’ claim that their relative was unlawfully killed rests with the failure of the authorities adequately to investigate the circumstances of the death,” it said.

A Greek prosecutor would investigate whether the case needed to be reopened, Greek court sources told Reuters on Friday.

Then Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the foreign, defence and public order ministers were among about 100 people whose mobile phones were tapped for months around the time of the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Unauthorised installed software allowed calls to and from scores of mobile phones to be recorded from June 2004 until March 2005. It stopped when Vodafone discovered the incident and reported it to authorities, Reuters reported at the time.

Who was behind the wiretap is unclear. In 2006 and 2007, Vodafone Greece was fined a total of 95 million euros by Greek regulators for breaching privacy rules.

A forensic expert contracted by Tsalikidis’s family called the initial autopsy probe “grossly inadequate”, while a second investigation launched after exhumation in 2012 revealed inconsistencies which should have been investigated further, the ECHR said in its verdict.

“(The) Court notably bore in mind that the public prosecutor, during the initial investigation, had mentioned that the death had been causally linked to the wiretapping case. It had therefore been all the more important to take every measure necessary to investigate Costas Tsalikidis’ death,” the court said.

It noted Tsalikidis’s family had at no point contended Greek authorities were responsible for his death or implied Greece was aware he was at risk.

Reporting by Michele Kambas; editing by Andrew Roche