ATHENS – The former leaders and dozens of members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party are in jail after being convicted of running and being in a criminal gang but two are out of reach of the law.
Christos Pappas, the party's former second-in-command is a fugitive, rabbiting to escape going to jail while the other, Ioannis Lagos is a Member of the European Parliament serving in the EU's capital Brussels, and can't be extradited unless his immunity is stripped.
Curiously, he returned to Greece for the verdict and there was no explanation why he wasn't taken into custody although defendants don't have to appear in court, even for sentencing and either turn themselves in or are arrested.
Pappas was having none of that and bolted and Lagos is back in Brussels, living the life of a parliamentarian and above the law for now although sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in Golden Dawn.
Greece has asked the European Parliament to waive his immunity, so that Belgian authorities can arrest him and send him back to serve his sentence, but the process has been mired in bureaucracy and politics and delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, The New York Times, Matina Stevis-Gridnett wrote.
The court case went on for five years, the defendants rarely appearing as they were prosecuted in the aftermath of the 2013 slaying of anti-Fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas, for which party member Giorgos Roupakias was convicted.
The court found the party's leaders orchestrated a campaign of violence, attacking refugees and migrants, Communist party members and other perceived targets of their Hitlerian-style operation, 68 followers convicted.
Lagos is appealing the verdict and told the paper in an email that he should continue to have immunity until the court hears him out, which could take years and leave him free.
Like the others convicted, he said was the victim of political persecution and a witch hunt despite scores of thousands of pages and lines of witnesses marking the party leaders and members for criminal acts.
He added that he was in talks with a “European country that is willing to grant political asylum to me,” though he did not name the country, a common tactic among Greek politicians.
As support for Golden Dawn eroded in the wake of the Fyssas murder, a year after the party entered the Greek Parliament, some of its former lawmakers broke off and escaped going to jail.
When the party was narrowly ousted in July 7, 2019 snap elections that saw the New Democracy Conservatives unseat the promise-breaking Radical Left SYRIZA, Lagos ran successfully for the European Parliament and started his own party with the same extremist stance as Golden Dawn.
While his former colleagues are in jail, Lagos lives in Brussels, paid more than 13,000 euros ($15,934.74) in salary and expenses, enjoying all the privileges of the position although in November he complained when lawmakers lost daily expense money because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“It is unfair for us to have be deprived of the per diems we are entitled to,” he said in an email to the Parliament’s leadership with millions in the bloc out of work because of lockdowns, and thousands dying.
It could take months before he is arrested and extradited and he's using the time to get on Twitter to crowdfund and plead with people to pay his legal fees while he's getting paid big money as an MEP.
HE'S THE MUSCLE
Lagos, the story said, claims to be a patriot who has been targeted by the Conservative government which had nothing to do with his court case and that enemies are trying to muzzle him and kindred spirits.
“He is in the core of the leading group of Golden Dawn, he’s one of the top five, not some kind of rank-and-file member,” Lefteris Papagiannakis, a legal expert who was a member of the Golden Dawn Watch initiative, a civil society organization that covered the trial told the paper.
“Lagos is the muscle, the brute force,” he added. “He is the ultimate expresser of the violent nature of Golden Dawn.”
There are 705 MEP's from the bloc's 27 member states, most of whom are said to be upset it's taking so long to strip his immunity and get him out of there with no explanation from the Parliament President Davis Sassoli about the holdup.
Nikos Androulakis, an MEP from Greece's center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) party, was the only one to complain when Lagos was allowed to speak at a recent session while the others claimed outrage, the scene of a man convicted of violent crimes still in the chamber.
“How is it possible that someone convicted of such serious crimes can take the floor of the only democratically elected institution in the European Union?” Mr. Androulakis asked to no answer from the leadership.
He said the pandemic isn't an excuse because other business is going on. “This isn’t just any case, it’s a unique situation without precedent,” he said.
Eva Cossé, an expert on Greece with Human Rights Watch, said, “It’s certainly not a good look for Europe for a member of the European Parliament to be convicted of managing a criminal organization, and be allowed to walk the streets freely because of parliamentary immunity.”
Adrián Vázquez Lázara of Spain, the head of the Parliament’s legal committee, which handles requests to waive immunity, said the process can't move faster because there are 11 other people ahead of Lagos who could also lose immunity for various reasons, but giving no explanation why it's still taking so long.
He warned that any deviation from the process could expose the committee to accusations of bias. “The rules and the law are the same, regardless of your ideology,” he said.
In a written response to questions about Lagos’s case, the European Parliament’s press office noted that “immunity defends the integrity and the independence of Parliament as a whole and it is not a Member’s personal privilege,” but added that “it is up to the Legal Affairs committee to organize their agenda.”
After Lagos was sentenced, the Greek judicial authorities shared with the European Parliament 2,000 pages of documents in support of their request to waive his immunity but procedural delays remain that could take months more.
Cossé argued that the conviction of Mr. Lagos and his allies had a particular importance. “At a time of deep divisions and rising intolerance, the ruling against a party like Golden Dawn that peddled hatred resonated well beyond Greece,” she said.
Papagiannakis told the paper the seriousness of Lagos' crimes should move him go the head of the line for review of stripping immunity.
“These people used the parliamentary cloak to protect themselves,” he said. “It’s incumbent on the committee to pursue this as a priority to send a message clearly, that this cannot pass.”
In the meantime, there's no word whether there's any worry in Greece that if his immunity is stripped and before he's extradited if that happens that Lagos – his name means rabbit – will run.