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After Convictions, Sentencing for Golden Dawn Continues, Leniency Sought

Αssociated Press

A view of a court in Athens, moments before the deliver of the verdict on the Golden Dawn trial, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – Defense lawyers for 18 former lawmakers of the neo-Nazi party, convicted along with dozens of members of organizing or participating in a criminal gang, are pleading for easier terms in hearings before sentencing.

The process on Oct. 9 began its third day and saw some of the convicted roll out as mitigating circumstances for easier sentences defenses such as being married twice to the same woman.

A prosecutor – in Greece's legal system that's a neutral arbiter who hears both sides and makes recommendations to the court – wanted acquittals, declaring that despite a five-year trial with 10,000 pages of evidence and more than 200 witnesses against the party that there were no grounds for a conviction.

The defense lawyers representing the former lawmakers, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, weare presenting mitigating circumstances to the court for more lenient sentences to be imposed on their clients.

Seven of the former lawmakers, including Michaloliakos and European Parliament member Ioannis Lagos, have been found guilty of leading a criminal organization and face five to 15 years in prison. The other 11 were found guilty of participating in a criminal organization, which carries a potential sentence of five to 10 years.

Founded as a neo-Nazi group in the 1980s, Golden Dawn remained a fringe group until Greece’s brutal, near-decade-long financial crisis that began in 2009, during which it became the country’s third-largest party. 

Considered a model for many extreme-right groups in Europe and beyond, it won parliamentary seats in four elections from 2012 until 2019, when its popularity plummeted and the party was ousted in July 7, 2019 snap polls.

The trial against party lawmakers, members and supporters was sparked by the 2013 fatal stabbing of left-wing Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas, and encompassed another three cases: physical attacks against Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and on left-wing activists in 2013, and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.

Giorgos Roupakias, accused of being a party supporter who delivered the fatal stab wounds to Fyssas, was found guilty of murder, possession and use of a weapon, and faces a potential life sentence.

His lawyer said Roupakias has suffered enough, being confined to a 50-square meter (538.2 square feet) apartment under house arrest after being released on pre-trial detention, with no mention of Fyssas.

During the Oct. 8 sentencing hearing, prosecutor Adamantia Economou argued that mitigating circumstances could be recognized for those only found guilty of membership of a criminal organization but not for other crimes.

That goes against the terms of a leniency law passed by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in its last days in office before being beaten in 2019, which the New Democracy government hasn't moved to reverse, change or toughen.

None of the former lawmakers, who had all served the maximum 18 months in pre-trial detention at the start of the trial, appeared in court for the verdict but if sentenced to mail arrest warrants for them will be issued or they can turn themselves in.

Uncertain is what will happen to one of those convicted, Yiannis Lagos, who is a Member of the European Parliament from Golden Dawn, who lives in Brussels and has immunity from prosecution unless lifted and extradition allowed.

In an online video post from the European Parliament Thursday, Lagos vowed to fight a legal battle to demonstrate that the trial had been unfair, describing it as politically motivated but said he would surrender if requested.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)