Investigating magistrates specialised in combating corruption will tomorrow begin formally indicting key figures from Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party on charges of directing and belonging to a criminal organisation and of involvement in at least three murders.
This follows a crackdown by the authorities over the weekend on the party that resulted in the arrest of six of its 18 MPs and another 16 functionaries or members, among them two serving police officers.
Picked up in dawn raids early on Saturday were Nikos Michaloliakos, the party's leader, and Ilias Kasidiaris, its spokesman, who made international headlines last year when, during an election campaign, he assaulted a woman politician on live television.
Police led the MPs out in handcuffs to run the gauntlet of impatient local and foreign journalists before a court appearance in which those arrested were formally charged.
As he walked past the cameras, Mr Michaloliakos, clutching a small bag in his hands, sought to wrestle his arms free from the masked anti-terrorist police escorting him, while Mr Kasidiaris hurled abuse at the media.
The crackdown on a party represented in parliament, a measure unprecedented since the military dictatorship of 1967-1974, comes just over a fortnight after the fatal stabbing of a prominent leftist rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, by a Golden Dawn supporter.
That murder pushed the judicial authorities into upgrading more than 30 outstanding misdemeanour cases involving Golden Dawn MPs and members into a single criminal investigation, paving the way for the weekend's arrests.
Relying on sworn testimony provided by former members of the party, who have requested protection, and on eavesdropped telephone conversations recorded by the secret service, the Supreme Court prosecutor handling the case is believed to have established a chain of command from the top echelons of the party to hit squads at street level.
Greek media was reporting last night that the judicial authorities have enough evidence to link certain defendants with at least three murders, including that of Fyssas, attacks on migrants and a group assault on members of the country’s Communist Party earlier this month.
Political scientist Seraphim Seferiades, a politics professor at the Panteion University in Athens, said last night that after a long period of acting with “practical immunity” many of those arrested are likely to be convicted.
“At this stage, one has to be cautious, of course. But Golden Dawn has such a huge criminal record that conviction is the most likely outcome,” said Prof Seferiades.
“Taking advantage of the prevalent nationalist discourse and widespread economic hardship, Golden Dawn was able to grow and step up its criminal activity enormously. After the assassination of Pavlos Fyssas and the uproar it created, the government had no choice but to do something. The country’s international image was at stake,” he said, pointing out that Greece is to take up the EU Council presidency in January.
It remains unclear whether Golden Dawn’s MPs will resign en masse from parliament, a move that they hope would trigger byelections in the 15 constituencies they were elected.
Even though the chances of a Golden Dawn candidate topping the poll are slim, reports say the government may introduce legislation reducing the number of seats in parliament to avoid a poll.
Greece’s constitution does not allow for the banning of a political party – a legacy of the outlawing of the Communist Party from 1947 to 1974 – but parties nevertheless require Supreme Court permission to contest elections.