In October, leaders of Golden Dawn, a neo-fascist group from Greece, were convicted of operating a criminal organisation. However, one leader, Ioannis Lagos, remains free as he is an elected member of the European Parliament living in Brussels and immune from extradition orders. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his part in initiating and running Golden Dawn. Mr Lagos continues to use his platform to target Turkey, something he has been sanctioned for before. Meanwhile, Greece is seeking permission from the European Parliament to waive Mr Lagos’ immunity so he can be arrested and extradited to serve his sentence in Greece. This has been delayed because of COVID-19 and the bureaucracy and political quagmire of the European Parliament.
Mr Lagos is appealing the conviction and has petitioned the European Parliament to not waive his immunity while the appeal is proceeding. He has argued that the trial was a sham aiming to politically persecute him. Mr Lagos continued that he was negotiating with an unnamed ‘European country that is willing to grant political asylum to me.’
Lefteris Papagiannakis, a legal expert and a member of the Golden Dawn Watch initiative, a civil group that covered the trial, stated that it is very important that Mr Lagos be imprisoned as ‘he is in the core of the leading group of Golden Dawn, he’s one of the top five, not some kind of rank and file member. Lagos is the muscle, the brute force… He is the ultimate expresser of the violent nature of Golden Dawn.’
Eva Cossé, an expert on Greece working with the Human Rights Watch, stated that ‘it’s certainly not a good look for Europe for a member of the European Parliament to be convicted of managing a criminal organization, and be allowed to walk the streets freely because of parliamentary immunity.’
Whereas Adrián Vázquez Lázara of Spain stated the European Parliament’s legal committee handling the application to waive Mr Lagos’ immunity could not expedite the process. He said, ‘the rules and the law are the same, regardless of your ideology.’
It is very important for the European Parliament to accelerate the process as immunity should not be used by those who have been convicted of serious crimes. It also does not make sense that Mr Lagos is representing the country that prosecuted him of that serious crime.
Golden Dawn became prominent in the 2000s by blaming elites, immigrants especially Muslims, and the European Union for Greece’s economic problems. The party won 21 out of 300 seats in May 2012 including Mr Lagos’ seat. The landmark court case against Golden Dawn members dragged on for five years and concluded when a three-member panel of judges ruled that Golden Dawn was operating a criminal group under the façade of being a democratically elected political party. Sixty-eight members were convicted for forming and operating the criminal group, attacking migrants and left-leaning organisations, destroying property, and even killing an anti-fascist musician.
Former members of the legal committee have stated there is a means of expediting waiver proceedings, this needs to be a priority for the European Parliament. It not only ensures its integrity but also ensures that its members are representative of the countries they represent, which Mr Lagos is not if he has been sanctioned by its legal apparatus.