Greek Neo-Nazi Lawmaker Stripped of Immunity by European Parliament

BRUSSELS — The convicted Greek neo-Nazi Ioannis Lagos was stripped of his immunity as a member of the European Parliament on Tuesday, clearing the way for his extradition to Greece months after he was sentenced in a landmark trial.

Mr. Lagos, a leading member of the now-defunct criminal organization Golden Dawn, which formed a political party that in its heyday was the third largest in the Greek Parliament, told The New York Times in written comments earlier this year that he was planning to flee to a “European country” where his rights would be protected, but did not specify which.

On Tuesday, shortly after the waiving of his immunity was announced, he did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The decision by the European Parliament, announced Tuesday morning after a secret ballot held a day earlier, comes after months of delays of procedure over protocol and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr. Lagos was elected to the European Parliament as an independent candidate while his trial for forming and running a gang was ongoing in 2019.

He was found guilty alongside dozens of other leading members of Golden Dawn, and he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for running a criminal organization, but was protected until now by immunity afforded to members of the European Parliament.

Golden Dawn rose to prominence a decade ago, systematically targeting the European Union and migrants, especially Muslims, during the financial crisis that devastated Greece’s economy and society.

The trial in Greece lasted more than five years and is widely regarded as one of the most important cases against neo-Nazis in contemporary Europe, where forces of the far right became empowered during the financial crisis and further emboldened after the refugee crisis of 2015-2016, in some cases penetrating the mainstream political spectrum.

One of the leading members of the party, Christos Pappas, remains on the run after his conviction.

Mr. Lagos has been fighting to hold on to his immunity and avoid extradition to Greece to serve his sentence, while also claiming the case against him is political and that he’s being prosecuted for his political thoughts, not his deeds.

The European Parliament has come under criticism for taking months to deliberate on the waiver of Mr. Lagos’s immunity and for refusing to prioritize his case over other pending immunity cases of European lawmakers wanted in their home countries over smaller legal matters.

The Parliament’s relevant committee defended its pace and prioritization of cases as partly a matter of slowed-down deliberations because of the coronavirus outbreak and partly an effort to meticulously follow protocol to avoid any charges of bias.

The committee recommended the European Parliament waive Mr. Lagos’s immunity last week, in an anonymous vote of 22 to 2, and the full Parliament supported that decision in a vote by 658 to 25, with 10 abstentions.

The next step is for the Greek authorities to ask the authorities in Belgium, where the Parliament is based most of the time and Mr. Lagos is a resident, to arrest and extradite him.

It would then be up to Belgian courts to rule on the request, which may take months. The Brussels Public Prosecutor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Should the Belgians block a request, Mr. Lagos would continue to sit in the European Parliament, but that seems highly unlikely.

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