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Greece: Human rights court makes €50,000 ruling in alleged government wiretapping death

Human rights judges say Greece’s authorities failed to investigate adequately the death of a phone operator employee allegedly linked to a high profile wiretapping affair.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Tsalikidis and Others v. Greece (application no. 73974/14) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 2 (right to life/investigation) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Greece was to pay the applicants (Panagiotis Tsalikidis, Georgia Tsalikidi, and Georgios Tsalikidis) jointly 50,000 euros (EUR) in respect of nonpecuniary damage and EUR 4,000 for costs and expenses.

The case concerned the investigation into the death of a phone operator employee, Costas Tsalikidis.

He was found hanging in his apartment, the day before the Greek Government was informed that many of its members, including the Prime Minister, had had their mobile phones wiretapped.

The wiretapping affair involved the tapping through spyware of more than 100 mobile phones belonging to members of the Greek government.

A parliamentary investigation revealed in 2006 that the unauthorised spyware had been implanted in software provided to the phone operator for whom Tsalikidis was working by another telecommunications company.

Tsalikidis was responsible for accepting the software and met regularly with the other company’s representatives.

There were two investigations into the death. The initial investigation, between 2005 and 2006, found that the cause of death had been hanging with a noose; and the supplementary investigation, between 2012 and 2014, upheld the initial investigation’s conclusions, even though two of the three coroners who prepared the new forensic reports concluded that the cause of death remained unclarified.

The applicant family do not believe that their relative committed suicide, alleging that both the initial and the supplementary investigation had had serious shortcomings.

The court considered that the Greek authorities had failed to carry out an adequate and effective investigation into the death of Costas Tsalikidis.

It found in particular that the authorities had decided to close the supplementary investigation, simply citing the relevant steps that had been taken and referring to new reports, without addressing any of the inconsistencies that had been identified, such as the lack of injuries normally associated with hanging and contradictions in the rope mark on the deceased’s neck.

Other inconsistencies had not been resolved either, including the striking difference in the conclusions of the coroners’ forensic reports in the initial and the supplementary investigations, the apparent lack of motive for suicide and the broken hyoid bone, a finding consistent with strangulation. Indeed, it was not even clear on what grounds the public prosecutor had based his decision not to prosecute or to order further investigative measures as his decision to close the investigation had contained no reasoning.

In reaching that conclusion, 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.

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