Golden Dawn head, MPs arrested in unprecedented Greek crackdown

In an unprecedented crackdown over the weekend, police arrested the leader of the ultra-right Golden Dawn, Nikos Michaloliakos, as well as several lawmakers and party officials following an investigation by a Supreme Court prosecutor into criminal activities linked to the party, including the murder earlier this month of leftist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas by a supporter of Golden Dawn. The lawmakers faced a magistrate later in the day.

The arrests – the first such crackdown since the fall of Greece’s military junta in 1974 – followed rumors over the weekend of mass resignations by deputies of the ultra-right party and speculation about the likely need to hold by-elections. There was speculation about the intense political upheaval such a development could trigger, though senior government officials ruled out the possibility of snap general elections.

Leading up to the police crackdown, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras convened two emergency meetings with key ministers, sources told Kathimerini – one on Thursday night and a second on Friday night – a few hours before counter-terrorism officers visited the homes of Golden Dawn officials. From the day of the arrests officials struck a decisive tone, with government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou insisting that “democracy has the institutions to protect itself,” while Samaras was quoted as telling reporters, shortly before flying to the US for an official visit on Saturday, that the government’s immediate goals were “justice, stability; not elections.”

Officers arrested Michaloliakos first, shortly after 5.30 a.m. on Saturday, before taking in party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris and Yiannis Lagos. Ilias Panagiotaros and Nikos Michos handed themselves in to police. Police also arrested more than 10 party officials, including Giorgos Patelis, the head of the local chapter of Golden Dawn in Nikaia, southwest of Athens, close to the run-down district of Keratsini where Fyssas was stabbed, as well as around 30 party members. A police raid on the home of Michaloliakos in Pefki, north of Athens, turned up three guns – a pistol, a revolver and a hunting rifle, all without licenses – as well as ammunition and more than 40,000 euros in cash, the origin of which was unclear.

The government is today due to submit in Parliament draft legislation that would suspend state funding to political parties whose leaders or lawmakers have had criminal charges brought against them. Government officials hope that depriving the party of funding will curb its activities, which are being probed by the judiciary and by the Greek Police.

The latter, meanwhile, has launched an internal affairs investigation into suspected links between the force and the party.

A nine-page report compiled by Supreme Court deputy prosecutor Haralambos Vourliotis just five days after a probe was launched into 33 offenses attributed to Golden Dawn, described the party as a criminal organization and Michaloliakos as its leader. It brought charges against party officials of membership of a criminal organization. The charge sheet is said to include 10 counts of murder and attempted murder as well as blackmail, while additional charges of money laundering are reportedly being considered. According to the prosecutor’s report, the organization operated under a strict hierarchy with Michaloliakos – nicknamed “Fuehrer” – overseeing all decisions and Christos Pappas his second-in-command.

Michaloliakos, along with his fellow MPs and senior party officials were held for several hours on Saturday on the twelfth floor of the Athens police headquarters before being transferred to the capital’s main court complex, in handcuffs, by counter-terrorism officers. Kasidiaris shouted out “Nothing will bend us, long live Greece” while Michaloliakos held up his handcuffed hands defiantly.

A member of the police force’s motorcycle-riding unit, DIAS, also was arrested over the weekend on charges of membership of a criminal organization, according to police sources.

Earlier in the day some 300 Golden Dawn supporters rallied outside the police headquarters in a vehement protest but there were no reports of violence. The party had sent an SMS to supporters but also to the media calling on backers to “support our moral and just struggle against the corrupt system.” The messages had called for rallies outside the police headquarters and outside Golden Dawn’s offices in Halandri, northeastern Athens.

Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou insisted over the weekend that all MPs and members of Golden Dawn facing criminal charges will get a fair trial. “Democracy in Greece is strong,” he said after talks on Saturday with Samaras and Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias.

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