Months after historic trial, Golden Dawn leaders evade justice

Two prominent members of Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn party remain at large, three months after the widely celebrated verdict.

Supporters of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party lift torches at a protest
Golden Dawn leaders were convicted in October of running a criminal organisation [File: Michalis Karagiannis/Reuters]

Athens, Greece – Last October, the biggest trial of Nazis since Nuremberg concluded as Golden Dawn, the neo-fascist group which once held 18 seats in the Greek Parliament, was found guilty of forming and running a criminal organisation.

Giorgos Roupakios, a party member, was also found guilty of murdering 34-year-old Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-racism campaigner and rapper, in 2013.

It was a day of jubilation in the country, as Golden Dawn was finally held accountable for its years of violent attacks on immigrants, left-wing activists and even lawyers representing its victims.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted that it was an “historic” day for Greece, democracy, and the rule of law.

Three months later, the verdict is overshadowed.

Two significant members of Golden Dawn are still at large.

Members of a court audience hold banners that read ‘Nazis are not innocent’ during the Golden Dawn party trial in Athens on June 14, 2020 [File: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA-EFE]

Ioannis Lagos, a former leading figure in the party, remains a Member of the European Parliament as Greek requests for his extradition are mired by bureaucracy in Brussels, which has to lift his diplomatic immunity before he can be jailed in Greece.

Christos Pappas, widely acknowledged as the number two in Golden Dawn, disappeared last October, hours before police turned up at his home to arrest him. His current whereabouts remain unknown.

Both men are considered instrumental to the party’s reign of violence and intimidation against anyone who opposed their neo-Nazi ideology.

‘Offensive for Greek justice’

Kostas Skarmeas, who represented a group of Egyptian fishermen, victims of attempted murder by Golden Dawn, told Al Jazeera that it was a “disgrace” that Lagos and Pappas were not yet behind bars.

“It’s very offensive for the Greek justice and for the Greek courts,” he said, questioning why Greek police had been unable to capture Pappas.

Skarmeas said it was imperative that Lagos’s immunity was waived and called on European authorities to initiate proceedings immediately.

“We know that because of COVID measures, the parliamentary procedures are being delayed but still it’s the first time that parliament has a convicted criminal amongst its seats,” he said.

“[It] must be a matter of priority,” he added, pointing to recent events in Washington, DC as a signal that “fascism” was alive and well in the West.

Skarmeas said the continued freedom of two high-ranking members was an insult to Golden Dawn’s victims, both dead and alive.

“It’s very offensive for the victims too, after a five year [trial], now they see two of the most important leaders of this criminal organisation enjoying their freedom, like it never happened.”

The European Parliament Press Service pointed Al Jazeera to the varying steps before diplomatic immunity could be waived, and said the decision would now fall to the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs, which was due to meet in January.

The Greek minister for civil protection has previously said it was only a matter of time before both men were jailed.

European Parliament member Ioannis Lagos, centre, who had been found guilty along with others of leading a criminal organisation, and face five to 15 years in prison, pictured outside a court, waiting for his sentencing in Athens, October 12, 2020 [File: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo]

“The fact that two senior figures in the party remain at large is a fly in the ointment of the official success story,” said Georgia Nakou, a writer on Greek politics and current affairs.

“It serves as a reminder of the authorities’ lax attitude which let Golden Dawn go unpunished for several years.”

While Lagos and Pappas remain free men, Greek media reported this week that authorities have finally had some success in tracking down another Golden Dawn fugitive, who was well engrained with the party’s leadership.

Sotiris Develekos, wanted for attempted murder, was reportedly arrested this week in a seaside town just outside Athens.

Looking ahead, experts have warned that the convictions, arrests and imprisonment of far-right leaders, Golden Dawn still retains pockets of support in Greece.

A Twitter account affiliated to the organisation, with more than 3,000 followers, tweets regularly. Golden Dawn’s website, which is still online, announced on January 14 that 2021 will be “year zero” for nationalists, meaning a new beginning.

Golden Dawn’s Christos Pappas raises a copy of party’s magazine during his speech at a parliament session in Athens June 4, 2014 [File: Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera