ATHENS – The former lawmakers and dozens of members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party convicted of operating or taking part in a criminal gang are expected to be sentenced Oct. 12, but could get off easy under a law passed by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.
That leniency law – which the ruling New Democracy Conservatives haven't moved to reverse or toughen since ousting the Leftists in July 7, 2019 snap elections, was designed to help anarchists and terrorists, SYRIZA riddled with hard core admirers of them.
But since then, the law – which downgraded even major felonies to misdemeanors in some cases – has seen even violent criminals getting out of jail and others getting slaps on the wrists with judges hands tied.
There's been political fallout already, with SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who now calls his party a Progressive Alliance, criticized for standing outside the court calling for justice when the verdicts were announced without mentioning the passed in the waning days of his 4 1/2-year reign.
His former justice minister, Stavros Kontonis, quit the party over the law he denounced only now although he said he was unhappy with it when the government rammed it through Parliament.
He said it could now be used to benefit SYRIZA's political arch-enemies, the fascist Golden Dawn although most party members sided with Tsipras who called his former minister essentially a traitor.
On TV, Kontonis blamed what he called "expressed policies that do not find me in agreement,” and said he warned Tsipras the law would come back to bite the party and allow leniency for violent criminals.
The Golden Dawn convictions – one member, Giorgos Roupakias, was convicted of killing anti-Fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas in 2013 – were on felony counts but still could still relatively light sentences.
The law cut the maximum sentence stemming from a conviction for running a criminal organization to 15 years but allows early parole, a convict's age and health, which would see the time cut to as little as nine years.
The Tsipras Law also removed a prohibition on convicts from voting, seen as a transparent attempt to get votes from leftists in jail, whom the party was accused of wanting to get released outright.
"I had disagreed with the provisions of new penal code…which, by 70 percent, were a positive reform," said Kontonis, adding that he warned party officials it would be detrimental to them, later adding that it was New Democracy who attributed to him that kind of opposition he simultaneously denied.
he said, adding that he very publicly expressed his opposition at the time, and
Asked by reporters on ANT1 TV if the SYRIZA law would impact the sentences for Golden Dawn he said there were "certain serious problems, namely, provisions with which I disagreed … and with the additional sentences that the court cannot impose, because they do not exist now in the penal code."
That led New Democracy to accuse SYRIZA and Tsipras of "unbridled cynicism and unfathomable hypocrisy" for passing the law but no longer talking about it.
"He was outside the appellate court … demanding the conviction of the Golden Dawn cadres, yet as prime minister he saw to it for them to 'land softly.' … (the) revelation explains quite a few things, mainly why this case languished during his (Tsipras) tenure," New Democracy said in a statement.
The trial went on into a fifth year, SYRIZA avoiding having to deal with it as the proceedings were constantly delayed, pushing the decision over into the New Democracy administration, the Conservatives not explaining why they haven't acted to make the law tougher since assuming power.
SYRIZA's statement lambasted Kontonis saying that his statements "espouse the propaganda and fake news circulated by New Democracy, which are unacceptable and, objectively, serve political interests that are hostile to the left and SYRIZA,” leading him to quit before he was booted.
Defense lawyers for 18 former party lawmakers and dozens of other members and supporters presented arguments for more lenient sentences, ranging from one saying he had been married twice to the same woman and Roupakias' lawyer saying the convicted killer hadn't committed any crimes until then and that he'd suffered too being confined to house arrest.
The defense of party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, who had been a firebrand refusing to back down from his convictions, said he'd changed his tune after being convicted and was remorseful.
Seven of the former lawmakers, including Michaloliakos and current European Parliament member Ioannis Lagos, 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.
None of the former lawmakers, who had all served the maximum 18 months in pre-trial detention, appeared in court for the verdict or during the sentencing procedure as Greek law allows even those accused of serious crimes from not having to attend their own trials.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)