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Golden Dawn update

THE FINAL PHASE OF THE GREEK TRIAL

Thanasis Kampagiannis

The Golden Dawn trial that started on 20 April 2015 in Athens is nearing the final moment of the court decision. In our previous articles,(1) we described the structure of the trial and its course up to the examination of the witnesses and the reading of the investigative files. Since then, the defence has had its time to counter the evidence piled against their clients and to provide its narrative on the dozens of criminal attacks attributed to the criminal organisation acting under the disguise of a political party, according to the indictment.
In this article, we provide further information on the latest phases of the trial, where currently the defendants are giving their closing statements, due to be finished by the end of October. The crucial development since our previous report is that the leaders of the organisation have lost their parliamentary status since Golden Dawn was unable to get any candidate elected as MP during the last election of July 2019. That has deepened the financial crises and internal schisms of Golden Dawn leading to the closure of offices across Greece, including the national HQ in Athens. Defections and mutual denunciations have also provided further material for the trial, as have other determined cases of Golden Dawn (GD) criminality.

GOLDEN DAWN WITNSSES

July’s electoral blow came while the defense’s stalling tactics became exhausted. These involved submitting to the court to be read large numbers of documents from the parliament, its committees, inquiries, MPs’ speeches, etc.
The documented evidence provided by the defense turned out to be extraneous to the charges and legal proceedings. But the court indulged the submission and spent many months (from September 2018 to March 2019) reading the material; the defense’s purpose was both to delay proceedings until after the election and to project a ›character defense‹ that the accused were bona fide elected politicians. Parts of the evidence, however, were useful to the civil prosecution. It enabled the counsels for the joint plaintiff to highlight a language of ›cleansing‹ of immigrants and non-Greeks and to map it to indictments in which this racism and xenophobia are part of the criminal intent.
It was then the turn of the defense to call its witnesses. The defense submitted 260 names, largely of the character witness type, but ended up calling just 69 as the trial again opened up with strong cross-examinations by the prosecutor and in some cases severely damaged the defense case.
Defense witnesses fell into two categories: Firstly, family members and friends of perpetrators who both denied participation of defendants in Golden Dawn and any wrong-doing. Secondly, staff and cadres of Golden Dawn on the payroll of the organization, who argued GD was a ›legal political party‹, denied any criminal activity, any National-socialist character, etc.
The calling of friends and family of the accused was cut short, as the court visibly lost patience, because one witness after the other, when confronted with clear and incriminating photographic evidence, claimed they could not recognize the accused relative or friend in the pictures wearing Golden Dawn regalia, military clothing, etc.
Another defense witness (a journalist, named Aris Spinos) brought in by Golden Dawn leader Michaloliakos was meant to support his claim that he had nothing to do with the murder of Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013 and came to know about the murder only in the afternoon of the following day. The witness in fact testified that Michaloliakos came to know about the case already in the very night and further, that Michaloliakos became active within hours in order to try to cover the tracks that led right into the heart of the organization. Thus, the defense decided to shorten its list of witnesses, and in May 2019 the court moved to the ›apologias‹, or statements in response, to the charges by the defendants.
The first group was apologias from those charged in the three ›base cases‹ the court is investigating; the second group are cases on those charged merely with membership in or running a criminal organization.

(1) THE FYSSAS CASE

The defendants’ constant refrain was, ›We were not there‹. This stretched credulity and tried the patience of the court in the face of copious evidence, including police statements and videos, placing the defendants at the scene of the crime. But cracks emerged in the statements. Defendant Ioannis Dimou revealed how the Golden Dawn Nikea Squad gathered in the party offices and said, ›We are going for a battle‹. The defense line has been to say that cadres were called there late at night ›to go leafleting‹. Another defendant, Georgios Tsakanikas, who has distanced himself from Golden Dawn, said his job was to liaise with printers and verified there were no leaflets to be delivered that night. Dramatically, the leader of the Nikea Squad, Georgios Patelis, was caught on video in 2012 rallying his troops for an attack on immigrants, when he fainted on the propaganda booth. It was a telling moment for an organization that projects to deliver an ›courageous‹ image and claims it has nothing to fear from due process.

(2) THE EGYPTIANS’ CASE

Again, the defendants’ statement was: ›We were not there‹. But what did emerge from the questioning was that two of the defendants were wearing Golden Dawn-T-Shirts when they were arrested but were given the opportunity to change their clothing while in custody inside the Police Headquarters.

(3) THE PAME/KKE CASE

Here, the defendants’ statement differed slightly: ›It was just a brawl, we met them randomly, and there was a fight‹. Or even, ›they attacked us first‹. That was the gist of their statements. But the evidence from phone records and revealed details from the execution of the ambush is overwhelming as to its pre-planning and central organization. The features it shares with other attacks are: sudden appearance in an organized manner on motorbikes or in cars; armed with sticks, metal bars and additional weapons; coordinated multiple attacks and, equally organized, disciplined retreat once a recognized signal was given.
The determination of two additional cases meant that those convictions could also be introduced into the main trial against the perpetrators who are also accused of membership of a criminal organization. The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction for murder with racist intent of the two killers of the Pakistani retail worker, Shahzad Luqman, in 2013. One of the murderers had hundreds of Golden Dawn leaflets and other propaganda material at his home when he was arrested.
He denied his Golden Dawn membership when called to give his statement in the main trial. He also tried to deny racist intent, but was told by the judge that racial intent is a settled legal fact following the Appeal Court verdict. His alleged evidence for not being a member of Golden Dawn was that, while being imprisoned, he had met a Golden Dawn member who produced a letter for him stating that he never had been part of GD.
A second verdict in September found seven Golden Dawn members guilty of the organized attack on the Synergeio autonomous social space, also performed by the Nikea Squad in July 2013.

TWO  ADDITIONAL  IMPORTANT FINDINGS

Two important findings were introduced into the main trial by the civil prosecution. Firstly, two of the seven defendants were Golden Dawn MPs at the time, Ioannis Lagos and Nikolaos Michos. One of them was using his parliamentary courtesy car to take part in the assault. Both of them were convicted for instigating the attack. Secondly, the modus operandi verified in the verdict was identical to that of the three cases the main trial is considering – pre-planning, hierarchical organization, commanded and directed execution.
One of those two former MPs, Lagos, is at the center of the main trial. His role has emerged multiple times as a critical conduit between local attack squads and the central Golden Dawn leadership up to and including Michaloliakos. Both are in the last group of defendants, the former MPs and national leaders, who are to give their statements in the second half of October.
One consequence of the pressure resulting from the trial and political defeats during the last election is that there has been a rupture between Michaloliakos and Lagos – now a Member of the European Parliament – who has left Golden Dawn seeking to establish his own party.

RUPTURES AMONG GOLDEN DAWN CADRES

Lagos is trying to alter the order of statements so that he will be able to be the last speaker, after Michaloliakos. This detail and further developments suggest he wants to be able to respond to any effort by the leader to insulate himself. Obviously, he is aware that Michaloliakos might claim that responsibility for any attack went only as far as to Lagos, who was acting on his own initiative.
That would have been a line of defense, if Lagos would still be a Golden Dawn member, would still be willing to support Michaloliakos with his own credibility, and would prepared to accept all responsibility to protect his leader. But in an atmosphere of split and mutual recrimination it may well provoke mutual incrimination this month. In any case, that will mark the turn to the final stage of the trial. The two district attorneys, representing the state, will make their proposal to the court on how to find the respective charges and sentencing.
It will then be the time for the closing statements of the lawyers of the civil prosecution acting for the victims and of the GD defense lawyers. This is to happen within the first three months of 2020. The judges will retire to counsel on the case, then return to hand down their verdicts – nearly five years after the trial started.

Thanasis Kampagiannis is a lawyer in Athens who represents the Egyptian fishermen in the trial against Golden Dawn. Underheading and subheadings were inserted by the editorial staff.

(1) Thanasis Kampagiannis, Eine kritische juristische und politische Herausforderung. In: RAV InfoBrief 40(115), 2018, S 56-59. Electra Alexandropoulou und Eirini Vlachou, Zum Prozess gegen die ›Goldene Morgenröte‹ in Griechenland. Rechtliche und politische Herausforderungen. In: RAV InfoBrief 38(112), 2016, S 62-65.