Greece's Parliament Clears Way for More Charges Against 6 Right-Wing Lawmakers

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ATHENS -- As part of a widening effort to clamp down on violent extremism in Greece, the country's Parliament moved on Wednesday to lift the immunity of six lawmakers of Golden Dawn, the neo-fascist anti-immigrant party prosecutors portray as a criminal organization involved in murder, attempted murder, blackmail and other crimes.

The motion passed with an overwhelming majority of 246 votes in Greece's 300-seat House, paving the way for a prosecutor to issue warrants for the arrest of the six. Three party leaders are already in custody, and another member was arrested last month but released.

A series of violent attacks on immigrants linked to members of Golden Dawn, capped with the stabbing death of an antifascist rapper by a party supporter a month ago, set off the arrests and charges.

Addressing Parliament on Wednesday before the vote removed his immunity, the party's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, spoke of "a wretched frame-up." He accused the government of "taking its orders from the European Commission and the Americans," a reference to Greece's international creditors, and declared that it should be "the thieves, the con men, those who destroyed the country and sold it to international moneylenders, sitting in the dock."

Mr. Kasidiaris -- who also faces a separate trial for assaulting two female lawmakers, in an episode captured on live television -- was among six party officials arrested last month amid protests after the death of the rapper and charged with belonging to a criminal organization. The vote to lift his immunity was connected to a charge of threatening a police officer.

Three of those arrested last month remain in custody, but Mr. Kasidiaris and the two other officials, Ilias Panagiotaros and Nikos Michos, were released, stirring outrage among Greek politicians and the public.

In a bid to further box in Golden Dawn, Greek lawmakers are also debating legislation that would suspend state financing for political parties whose leaders or elected officials are charged with serious crimes. A vote on this measure is expected on Thursday.

Meanwhile, officials of Greece's Financial Crimes Squad have begun an investigation into Golden Dawn's finances over the past 12 years, looking for signs of money laundering or questionable donations, after reports that the party received money from shipping companies and even from priests.

An investigation into the suspected infiltration of the police force by members of the party has resulted in the arrest of at least 10 officers and searches at dozens of police stations across the country.

Golden Dawn appears to be weathering the bad publicity. The party, which was catapulted from obscurity in last year's general election to win 18 seats in Parliament, has slipped by a few percentage points in opinion polls since the crackdown by the authorities, but still ranks third overall, after the conservative New Democracy party, which leads the current ruling coalition, and the main opposition party, Syriza.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 16, 2013 2:02 PM


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