Greek court to sentence neo-Nazi party top brass

Athens (AFP) –

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A Greek court on Thursday will deliver eagerly-awaited sentences after leaders of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn were found guilty of running a criminal outfit in a landmark case, a court source said.

After a trial that lasted over five years, the panel of three judges on Wednesday made political history by unanimously labelling the paramilitary party a criminal organisation.

The verdict translates into possible prison sentences of up to 15 years for the top members of the party, including its founder and longterm leader Nikos Michaloliakos.

Key crimes carried out by Golden Dawn are the 2013 cold-blooded murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas and the beating of Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and communist trade unionists in 2013.

Fifty people were convicted on Wednesday, among them 18 former Golden Dawn members of parliament. One of them is now a European parliament member.

The judgement in Athens came as police and anti-fascist demonstrators clashed outside the courthouse, where some 15,000 people had gathered.

Around midday Thursday the court is expected to announce whether judges would accept any mitigating terms in passing sentences.

Defence lawyers lobbied the judges late into the night for lighter sentencing over prior good behaviour, the court source said.

According to reports, two formerly senior Golden Dawn members claimed to be animal lovers. One said he was a longterm blood donor.

Michaloliakos had famously called his party the "seed of the vanquished" in World War II. He has been pictured making Nazi salutes and referred to Adolf Hitler as a "visionary".

The 62-year-old former mathematician and disciple of Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos has also denied the existence of Holocaust crematoria and called illegal immigration a "wound".

During the investigation, prosecutors said Michaloliakos ran his party under a military-style hierarchy modelled on Hitler's Nazi party, with himself as the undisputed leader for over three decades.

A search of party members' homes in 2013 uncovered firearms and other weapons, as well as Nazi and fascist memorabilia.

Much of that came from the home of deputy leader Christos Pappas, where police found swastika flags, two German army helmets and bottles stamped with images of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Formerly on the political fringe, Golden Dawn grabbed over 426,000 votes in June 2012 after pledging to "scour the country" clean of illegal immigrants.

Many of its voters were police officers.

Denying any neo-Nazi affiliation and portraying themselves as anti-corruption nationalists, Golden Dawn attacked mainstream parties as "traitors" and "thieves".

They tapped into widespread anger towards the string of conservative and socialist governments that brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy in 2010.

Golden Dawn also capitalised on a perceived rise in the crime rate, blaming it on migrants.

At the height of its power, the party topped 10 percent in surveys, making it the third most popular party in the country.