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France's EDF says not spying on Greenpeace

* EDF says vigilant to protect its sites but not spying

* EDF official tells prosecutors hired private investigators

* Greenpeace launches IT security review

LONDON/PARIS, April 22 (Reuters) - French utility EDF EDF.PA has denied spying on European anti-nuclear groups, including Greenpeace after one of its security chiefs said he paid private investigators to hack into their computer systems.

Greenpeace said it was reviewing its network security after Pierre Francois, a power plant security chief at EDF, told French prosecutors he hired private investigators to gather information on Greenpeace in France, Belgium, Britain and Spain.

The state-run nuclear power giant denies illegal monitoring of its nuclear adversaries.

“EDF and its subsidiaries do not carry out any spying whilst remaining vigilant as an operator of high security sites and liaising with the state services to prevent all risk of violent and illegal action,” an EDF spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Francois, a former policeman, told French prosecutors he hired Kargus Consultants to spy on Greenpeace France and anti-nuclear group Sortir du Nucleaire.

A police search also found another contract with the private investigation firm Securewyse.

EDF said its management was unaware the contracts existed until the police found them.

The UK branch of Greenpeace, which fiercely opposes EDF and other European utilities’ plans to build new nuclear power plants in Britain, has asked the company for guarantees it is not spying on the group and launched an IT security review.

“We are naturally deeply concerned at the possibility that our system may have been hacked and an investigation is ongoing,” Nathan Argent, the head of Greenpeace UK’s nuclear campaign, told Reuters.

“We are awaiting the outcome of both this inquiry and the courts investigation in France, and are also seeking categorical assurances from EDF that they have not undertaken any illegal or covert monitoring of our offices and staff in the UK.”

The French investigation is focusing on whether the computer of Yannick Jadot, former head of operations at Greenpeace France, was hacked into as part of the monitoring.

WIDER ENQUIRY

Greenpeace wants the probe to be widened to see if EDF has been spying on the organisation across Europe, Pascal Husting, head of Greenpeace France said.

“In one of the depositions by Pierre Francois, he said he had asked Kargus Consultants in 2006 to gather information on Greenpeace in France and in countries where EDF had strategic interests such as Belgium, the UK and Spain,” Husting said.

“When I was interviewed by the examining magistrate Thomas Cassuto last week I asked him whether they would investigate beyond the computer hacking,” Husting said, adding if this was not the case then Greenpeace might have to bring civil action against EDF.

EDF Energy plans to build at least four power plants in Britain as part of a wider push to cut carbon emissions from the power sector by replacing the country’s ageing reactors and coal-fired power plants.

EDF is also keen to expand in Spain and Belgium whose governments are less enthusiastic about reviving nuclear energy.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups oppose nuclear energy because they say it is costly and potentially dangerous, arguing more should be spent on renewable technologies like wind and solar power and greater energy efficiency.

For a factbox on French nuclear energy companies click on [ID:nLR492409] (Editing by James Jukwey)

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