Penitent party members to testify against Golden Dawn MPs

Golden Dawn activists protest at the German embassy in Athens. Picture: Reuters
Golden Dawn activists protest at the German embassy in Athens. Picture: Reuters
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SHE first got into politics in Greece last year – when she bought herself a bullet-proof vest and learned how to beat up immigrants with poles hung with the national flag.

Her training over, she was a full member of Golden Dawn, the far-right party whose rage against foreigners has propelled its stiff-arm saluting leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos and 17 others into parliament in Athens in the wake of the Greek debt crisis.

A year on and the woman is Witness B, giving evidence used to arrest Mihaloliakos and five fellow Golden Dawn MPs. They have been charged with belonging to a criminal organisation involved in many offences, including the stabbing last month of a left-wing rap artist.

“Abusing immigrants was fun,” Witness B told prosecutors last month, describing her days riding with a party motorcycle gang – according to a partial transcript of testimony included in prosecutors’ indictment submission.

Defence lawyers challenge the testimony and the charges. The party denies wrongdoing. It says it is being persecuted for its politics after standing up for ordinary Greeks against a corrupt elite that has bankrupted the nation and flung open its borders to cheap migrant labour.

Statements filed in court by purportedly penitent members of Golden Dawn paint the most detailed picture yet of the inner workings of a group that spent three decades on the far fringes of politics before becoming the fifth biggest party last year.

That picture is one of violence and intimidation, not only against migrants, the testimony suggests, but also within the party – against dissenters or some who sought to leave. As such, the witnesses may be key to proving that Golden Dawn is a criminal organisation, people familiar with the case said.

No date or venue has been set for a trial of the six MPs, three of whom have been released on bail. They face ten years in jail if convicted of criminal association. A party supporter accused of killing the rapper during a street brawl is being tried for manslaughter with intent in a separate case; he says he was acting in self-defence.

The witnesses’ identities have not been verified. But prosecutors see their testimony as indicating that the party systematically planned or committed crimes over a period – a key test for convicting members of being part of a criminal organisation under a law targeting gang crime and terrorism.

The speed with which prosecutors brought charges after the killing, and government moves that could hurt Golden Dawn’s finances, have prompted some Greeks to suspect political motives in the case against an anti-establishment challenger. It has used its 18 votes in the 300-seat legislature to call for Greece to cancel massive foreign debts, attack the European Union and expel illegal immigrants.

Centre-right prime minister Antonis Samaras has spoken out fiercely against Golden Dawn since the stabbing. And a new government bill would cut off public funds to parties if leaders are charged with felonies. But independent legal experts see little to suggest prosecutors have exceeded their authority.

“These were really unprecedented events, tackled in an unprecedented way, which many people found bizarre,” said Yannis Drossos, professor of constitutional law at Athens Law School.

“But bizarre is one thing and illegal is quite another. It was done quickly and decisively, but not in an illegal way.”