The trial could be one of the most important in Greece's recent history, analysts say.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 25/08/14
Supporters of the far right Golden Dawn party wave flags and shout slogans outside the Athens Appeals Court as a police van brings their jailed leader Nikos Michaloliakos, his second-in-command Christos Pappas and another MP, Yiannis Lagos, to court for a hearing on July 4th. [AFP]
After spending more than a year compiling 10,000 pages of evidence and digital archives, Greece is set to prosecute the leaders of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party this fall in what promises to be a spectacular trial that could change the country's political landscape.
All of the party's 18 members of parliament have been arrested. Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris are in detention with half a dozen other MPs facing charges of operating a criminal gang.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's coalition government has been trying to find a way to dismantle the extremists since an anti-fascist hip-hop artist was murdered last year by a man police said belonged to the group.
"It will be a very spectacular trial, perhaps the most popular one in Greece for years due to the involvement of MPs, the passions involved and the polarised political sentiments involved, along with the revelation of many dark angles of the whole story," Ioannis Michaletos, a specialist in the party at the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defence Analysis, told SETimes.
A public prosecutor will recommend the cases against 78 suspects to Council of Appeals judges, who will decide which charges will be brought against them.
The case file includes more than 200 statements from witnesses, some of whom have been placed under protection. Thirty of the suspects, including Michaloliakos, are in pre-trial custody.
Judicial officials said they feared party leaders were using legal tactics to drag out the investigation so that they would have to be released once a maximum 18-month detention period expires.
"The accused are going to have a difficult time in the court proving their innocence. It seems that there is really hard evidence that they have formed a criminal organisation," Antonis Klapsis, head of research at the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy, told SETimes.
"The accused will try to turn the trial into a show by claiming that they are political prisoners and so on. It is not true of course. I am confident that they are not going to be successful," he added.
Michaloliakos, his wife, MP Eleni Zarouli, and their colleagues denied any wrongdoing, including orchestrating assaults on immigrants, and said the government wants to break up the party to get its voting base.
When he was briefly released to return to parliament to answer the charges, Michaloliakos launched into a screaming tirade against the government.
When he was being taken from the court, there were rowdy scenes outside as party supporters gathered before police fired tear gas to break up the crowd. A special courtroom is being prepared for the trial with plans in place for increased security after two photojournalists were hurt in an attack by party members during Michaloliakos's brief release.
Prosecutors allege that Golden Dawn, which rose from obscurity and 0.29 percent of the vote in 2009 to almost 7 percent in the 2012 elections, used Nazi methodology to organise the party and wants to bring down the government and democracy.
Greece's case got a seeming boost with the publication of photos showing its leaders giving Nazi salutes in front of a giant Swastika flag.
Kasidiaris said the charges, including those against him for possessing illegal weapons with the intent to supply a criminal organisation, were "ridiculous" and that the case is "purely political."
There are political overtones. Samaras's New Democracy Conservatives had been accused by critics of going easy on Golden Dawn to lure its voters, and a former member of the extremists told the US group Human Rights First that police were told not to investigate some attacks on immigrants.
Not everyone thinks the government has a solid case, even with at least two former members ready to testify against their former colleagues, especially if it backfires and the party keeps its hold among voters, or gets stronger.
"The government doesn't have a strong case," Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist and specialist in Golden Dawn at Athens' Panteion University, told SETimes. "I am afraid that Golden Dawn will use the trial to expose their views and ideas, attack the 'so-called democracy' as they call it and propagate their views that they are political prisoners."
(Kathimerini, 04/08/14; 22/07/14, 10/07/14)
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