Far-right EU politician appears in Greek court during Golden Dawn sentencing

Former Greek Parliament members from Golden Dawn were convicted last week for leading a criminal organisation

Greek Member of the European Parliament and a former member of Golden Dawn Ioannis Lagos attends the trial of leaders and members of the Golden Dawn?in a court in Athens, Greece, October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
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A Member of the European Parliament appeared in court in Greece at the start of sentencing hearings for politicians from the extreme-right Golden Dawn party and their followers.

Ioannis Lagos, an MEP and formerly a leading figure in Golden Dawn, appeared in court in Athens on Monday as judges heard mitigating arguments during sentencing.

Mr Lagos and 17 former Greek Parliament members from Golden Dawn were convicted last week of leading a criminal organisation, or participating in a criminal organisation, and face sentences of between five and 15 years in prison.

The MEP, who the prosecution in the five-year court case against Golden Dawn said was a high-ranking commander in the party's military-style hierarchy, travelled from Brussels to attend the hearing.

In Athens, Mr Lagos, who faces 15 years in prison if the European Parliament lifts his immunity, hit out at the three judges hearing the case, saying they were biased and had been placed under political pressure.

“I believe that there is a prevailing bias against the defendants and that the judges involved in the case came under direct and indirect pressure from the political establishment,” he said.

At the start of the lengthy sentencing process, presiding judge Maria Lepenioti said mitigating circumstances would be granted to four former politicians and 10 other convicted members on grounds of age, expressions of remorse and lack of prior convictions.

Leniency was not recognised for Mr Lagos or six other former parliament members considered to be leaders of the organisation, including Nikos Michaloliakos, the party leader.

The five-year proceedings gripped Greece as 68 defendants, 18 former MPs and the rest associates of the far-right party, were put on trial for four combined cases.

The court heard testimony on the 2013 fatal stabbing of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, attacks on Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and on left-wing activists in 2013, as well as evidence on the group’s criminal organisation.

European Parliament member Ioannis Lagos, center, who had been found guilty along with others of leading a criminal organization, and face five to 15 years in prison, uses his mobile phone outside a court, waiting for his sentencing in Athens, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. An Athens court has extended to Monday a sentencing hearing for leading members and associates of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn convicted earlier this week of multiple crimes. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

The judges found Giorgos Roupakias, a Golden Dawn supporter, guilty of the 2013 slaying. Fifteen other defendants, none of whom were former legislators, were convicted as accomplices.

The far-right party, founded in the 1980s as a neo-Nazi organisation, gained political momentum attracting supporters with its xenophobic rhetoric at the height of Greece's decade-long debt crisis.

Golden Dawn failed to win any seats in last year's parliamentary election that brought the conservative New Democracy party to power.

A European Parliament source suggested Mr Lagos’s immunity should be lifted in light of the charges.

The matter will first be presented to the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee before it goes to a full vote among MEPs.

Known for his powerful build and biker moustache, Mr Lagos, 48, was the party's local commander for the Piraeus area, prosecutors said.

He most likely gave the order to party henchmen to stab anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013, the crime that sparked the investigation into the party, Fyssas's mother told the court in 2015.

"Nothing would have been done without approval from Lagos, there is no chance," Magda Fyssas told the court.

He also played a critical role in racist attacks against Egyptian fishermen. He had warned Egyptian migrant fishermen in his constituency in 2012 that they would have to answer to Golden Dawn.