Leader of Far-Right Party in Greece Is Jailed

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Correction Appended

ATHENS -- The leader of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party was returned to custody on Thursday after appearing before a Greek magistrate on charges of setting up a criminal organization, part of the government's crackdown on a party described by Greek and European authorities as neo-Nazi and violent.

The magistrate's order to remand Nikos Michaloliakos, the first political party leader to face jail since Greece's seven-year military dictatorship ended in 1974, came a day after three of his fellow lawmakers facing similar charges were released from custody and told not to leave the country, and a fourth was ordered held pending trial.

During more than six hours of testimony in an Athens courtroom, Mr. Michaloliakos condemned the murder last month of a 34-year-old hip-hop artist and anti-fascist, Pavlos Fyssas, by a self-professed supporter of Golden Dawn, and said he did not know whether members of the party were involved in violence, according to a court official. "I condemn the murder, like I condemn violence in general," he was quoted as saying. "I am not a Nazi."

Leaving court early Thursday, Mr. Michaloliakos was defiant. "Long live Golden Dawn! Victory!" he declared as his wife, Eleni Zaroulia, another Golden Dawn member of Parliament, cried, "You're a diamond!" and his daughter, Ourania Michaloliakou, urged him, "Don't buckle, don't give in!!

Mr. Michaloliakos was transferred to the capital's high-security Korydallos prison later in the day along with Yiannis Lagos, another Golden Dawn lawmaker. Giorgos Patelis, the head of the party's chapter in Nikaia, near the spot where Mr. Fyssas was fatally stabbed, and an officer from the regional police precinct accused of supplying Golden Dawn with information were taken to two other jails in central Greece, state television reported, amending earlier reports that all four suspects would be held together at Korydallos.

According to the police, Mr. Lagos telephoned Mr. Michaloliakos half an hour after the killing of Mr. Fyssas on Sept. 18. The lawmaker has been tied to protection and prostitution rackets as well as blackmail and money laundering, according to secret service documents leaked to the Greek media this week.

Later on Thursday, a sixth lawmaker, Christos Pappas, the party's second in command, was also ordered returned to custody after testifying for at least six hours before a magistrate. He was to stay overnight at the Athens police headquarters before his transfer to prison. Arriving at the capital's court complex, Mr. Pappas told reporters, "Golden Dawn will run in the next elections, whenever they may be." Photographs of guns and Nazi paraphernalia found in Mr. Pappas's home in northwestern Greece during a police raid there earlier this week were posted on the police force's Web site.

A government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou, defended the government's crackdown on the party amid the vehement criticism fueled by the release on Wednesday of the three Golden Dawn lawmakers and speculation about the authorities' abilities to rein in the party's activities. "This is the most dynamic confrontation of a neo-Nazi criminal organization in history," Mr. Kedikoglou told Greek television.

He acknowledged that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who is on an official trip to the United States, had been "surprised" to learn of the lawmakers' release. But he said he was confident that they would be brought to justice. "They face extremely heavy charges and will face them in court, which will decide on their fate," he said.

A prosecutor's report that prompted the arrest of the six far-right lawmakers as well as a dozen party officials over the weekend described Golden Dawn as a "criminal organization" operating according to a strict hierarchy akin to Nazi dogma. The report, which was leaked to the Greek media last weekend, said party leaders sought supporters with martial arts skills to recruit young Greeks for hit squads that chiefly targeted immigrants. The charge sheet set out in the report includes murders, including that of Mr. Fyssas, and attempted murders.

Golden Dawn's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, who assaulted reporters immediately after his release, on Thursday addressed the Greek media outside the capital's court complex in a more composed fashion, describing the decision to jail Mr. Michaloliakos as "the biggest frame-up in modern political history."

Golden Dawn, which catapulted out of obscurity in Greece's June 2012 elections, winning 18 seats in Greece's 300-seat Parliament after campaigning on a staunchly anti-immigrant platform, has seen its support slide in the past weeks. But it remains the third most popular party, according to opinion polls, after the conservative New Democracy, which leads Greece's coalition government, and the leftist opposition, Syriza.

Correction: October 3, 2013, Thursday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the head of the Golden Dawn chapter in Nikaia. He is Giorgos Patelis, not Yiannis Lagos.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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