ATHENS (Reuters) - The leaders of the far-right Golden Dawn, once Greece’s third largest political party, were sentenced to prison on Wednesday for running a criminal gang linked to hate crimes during the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
Golden Dawn entered parliament for the first time in 2012 at the peak of the crisis on a fiercely anti-immigrant platform, tapping into Greeks’ anger over painful austerity measures and what many saw as a corrupt and cosy political establishment.
The court handed down 13-year jail terms to six former lawmakers, including Golden Dawn’s leader Nikos Mihaloliakos.
Other former lawmakers and members were sentenced to 5-7 years in prison. The court will decide later this week if any of the sentences can be suspended.
The court also handed a life sentence on Wednesday to Golden Dawn member Yiorgos Roupakias for the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013. Roupakias also received an additional 10 years in jail for belonging to a criminal group.
It was the stabbing of Fyssas that prompted authorities to crack down on Golden Dawn amid huge protests across Greece.
The authorities launched an inquiry into whether the party was a criminal organisation in parallel with the criminal investigation into the rapper’s murder and into violent attacks on immigrants and left-wing activists.
Police found unlicensed weapons and Nazi flags in the homes of party members. The party accused the government of a politically-motivated conspiracy to rob it of votes.
Golden Dawn won seats in Greece’s two parliamentary elections in 2015 but failed to win a single seat in last year’s vote that brought the conservative New Democracy party to power.
Last week Athens’s Appeals Court ruled the party a criminal organisation, drawing cheers from thousands gathered outside the courthouse.
Among those convicted on Wednesday were Yannis Lagos, a European Parliament deputy who resigned from Golden Dawn last year, and former party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who during a 2012 TV debate hurled a glass of water at a female politician, slapping another one on the face.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Gareth Jones
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