Neo-Nazi former Greek MEP refuses extradition from Belgium

Ex-leading member of banned Golden Dawn movement objects to 13-year jail sentence after being convicted in Greece on several charges, including running a criminal organization

Greek MEP Ioannis Lagos, a former leader of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, in an undated image (video screenshot)
Greek MEP Ioannis Lagos, a former leader of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, in an undated image (video screenshot)

BRUSSELS (AFP) — An MEP and former leading member of Greece’s banned neo-Nazi Golden Dawn movement, arrested in Belgium, has challenged moves to send him home for imprisonment, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Ioannis Lagos was detained on a European arrest warrant in Brussels on Tuesday, shortly after the European Parliament voted to strip him of his immunity.

But, brought before a Belgian magistrate on Wednesday, he challenged the move to send him to Greece to serve a 13-year jail term, deputy public prosecutor Katrien Meulemans said.

“The investigating judge decided to detain him,” she said, explaining that a legal procedure would now be launched to study Greece’s extradition request.

People holding a banner depicting Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, who was stabbed and killed by a supporter of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party in 2013, gather for a protest outside a court ahead of a verdict in the case, in Athens, October 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

“The Brussels Council Chamber will decide on the execution of the European arrest warrant within 15 days. The date of the hearing has not been set and will be announced later.”

Lagos, a 48-year-old former nightclub bouncer, was elected to the European Parliament in 2019. He entered as a member of the far-right Golden Dawn group but later rebadged as an independent.

In October, along with other leaders and members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, he was convicted in Greece on several charges, including that of running a criminal organization.

But the court ruling could not be enforced while Lagos continued to enjoy an MEP’s immunity from prosecution and residing in Brussels, the seat of the parliament.

Late Monday, in a secret ballot, MEPs overwhelmingly endorsed an order that Lagos be stripped of his immunity, with 658 backing the move and only 25 opposed.

Murdered rapper

The marathon trial of the Golden Dawn top brass, including founder and long-term leader Nikos Michaloliakos, was seen as one of the most important in Greece’s modern political history.

In total, more than 50 defendants were convicted of crimes ranging from running a criminal organization, murder and assault, to illegal weapons possession.

The jail terms capped a stunning downfall for a party which was the country’s third most popular in 2015.

The crackdown was sparked by the late-night murder of a 34-year-old anti-fascist rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, stabbed to death in front of a cafe in a western Athens suburb in September 2013.

Lagos was Golden Dawn’s local district commander in the broader Piraeus area where Fyssas was murdered.

“Nothing would have been done without approval from Lagos, there is no chance,” the victim’s mother Magda had told the court during the trial.

Based on records of phone conversations between Golden Dawn members the night Fyssas was murdered, prosecutors had also argued the attack was carried out with the knowledge of senior party cadres.

They said it was part of a broader pattern of violence organized by the party against migrants and political opponents.

Other crimes committed in the area overseen by Lagos included assaults on Egyptian fishermen and Communist trade unionists in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Michaloliakos and the majority of those found guilty are already behind bars.

Golden Dawn’s deputy leader Christos Pappas is currently on the run, and Greek media have reported he could be hiding under the guise of a monk somewhere in the Balkans.

Tapping into anti-austerity and anti-migrant anger during Greece’s decade-long debt crisis, Golden Dawn won 18 seats in parliament in 2012, with its lawmakers repeatedly shocking the chamber with provocative and aggressive behavior.

Its influence grew in 2015 but began to ebb as the group’s criminal activities began coming to light in trial testimony.

The party failed to win a single seat in the last parliamentary election in 2019.

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