EU Court Finds Greek Police Botched Wiretap Death Case

The main building of the European Court of Human Rights. (Photo credit: CherryX/Wikipedia)

(CN) – Greek officials did not adequately investigate the death of a telephone company executive found hanging in his apartment a day before lawmakers and the prime minister learned their cellphones had been tapped, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday.

Costas Tsalikidis, a Vodafone Greece executive, was found hanging in his Athens apartment in March 2005 on the eve of the Greek government’s discovery of a major wiretapping operation that targeted over 100 cellphones belonging to officials – including the prime minister and senior members of the cabinet.

An investigation into the wiretaps revealed another telecom had planted spyware into Vodafone’s equipment, and that Tsalikidis had allowed the spyware’s placement and met regularly with the other telecom. The wiretaps went live in June 2004 and were removed a day before Tsalikidis’ death.

Police determined Tsalikidis had died by hanging and the prosecutor ruled that despite a causal link between the death and the wiretapping affair, the death was not a criminal act.

Tsalikidis’ family refused to accept the man had taken his own life and hired their own investigators, who uncovered several inconsistencies to the suicide theory. These included a lack of injuries common during hanging, contradictions as to the rope marks on Tsalikidis’ neck, and an extremely complex sailing knot used for the noose that would have been quite impossible given Tsalikidis’ complete lack of sailing experience.

The family’s experts had a theory: Tsalikidis was poisoned and then hanged afterward to make his death look like a suicide. So Greek authorities reopened the case in 2012, exhumed Tsalikidis’ body and conducted histology, toxicology and forensic tests.

Investigators found no evidence of poison, but did find Tsalikidis’ hyoid bone was broken – an indication he’d been strangled. They also had a psychiatric report done which found Tsalikidis’ personality was not compatible with a suicide profile. However, after two years authorities closed the case again with no changes to Tsalikidis’ cause of death.

Tsalikidis’ family brought an action before the European Court of Human Rights, claiming the Greek authorities had violated their duty to conduct a complete investigation. And while the rights court found it was too late to complain about the first investigation, Greek police had failed in the second investigation by closing it without addressing the numerous inconsistencies.

The decision to close the case without reconstructing the incident and in the absence of forensic studies of the scene – particularly given the prosecutor’s finding a causal link between Tsalikidis’ death and the wiretapping affair during the first investigation – underscores the inadequacy of the investigation, the EU rights court found.

The court ordered the Greek government to pay Tsalikidis’ family $59,000 in damages.

After years of investigating, the Greek government issued an international arrest warrant for a CIA official they believe was at the heart of the wiretapping affair while he was stationed in Athens.

According to a 2015 report by The Intercept, the United States has refused to turn over the agent.

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