The Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which reached the corridors of power before a spectacular fall from grace, funded itself in classic mafia style through protection rings, blackmail and more.
In the run up to the trials of some of the leaders of Golden Dawn, information showing that the party funded itself through protection rings, blackmail, trafficking and off-shore money laundering has come to light in a series of documents unearthed by prosecutors in their investigation and seen by Channel 4 News.
The party first came to prominence when a Golden Dawn representative was elected in the city council of Athens. Then it won 18 seats in the 2012 general elections, the biggest victory a swastika-draped party has had in Europe since the 1930s. It made Golden Dawn arguably Europe’s most important neofascist organization.
The party followed up this success with a mix of sensational TV appearances and interviews which made no secret of the racist and ultranationalist views of its members, violent attacks on immigrants and charitable actions for Greeks only. A network of more than 70 offices across Greece sustained a steady flow of food and clothing handouts accessible only to those carrying a Greek ID card.
Watch: racist, anti-semitic, and violent - the true face of Golden Dawn
As its influence, presence, and staff on payroll grew across the country, the big question on everyone’s lips was: “Where do they get their money from?”. The standard subsidy parties receive after being elected in parliament could not account for more than a fraction of those costs, as politicians across the spectrum pointed out at the time.
In September 2013, after the murder of antifascist musician Pavlos Fyssas by Giorgos Roupakias, a Golden Dawn member, the party’s actions came to an end.
The crackdown against the party’s leadership, officials and activists that followed uncovered shocking evidence that now finds them charged with running a criminal organisation.
The entire parliamentary team and the party’s leader, who was allegedly informed about and approved of every move, will face the Greek courts. Evidence uncovered by public prosecutors in Athens and revelations made by the civic prosecution also sheds light on the party’s finances and how it could afford to run such a sophisticated and expensive PR machine.
“These hands might salute like this sometimes, but they are clean hands, not dirty. They haven’t stolen,” the party’s leader Nikos Michaloliakos said in a speech to his followers earlier this year, while giving the Nazi salute.
Thanasis Kabayiannis, who, along with other lawyers, represents the civic prosecution and runs the blog Jail Golden Dawn, disagrees.
“They created battalions against their political opponents, and then they rented them out, to whoever wanted to rent them,” he told Channel 4 News.
In one of the most important cases, a network of businessmen active in the shipping industry allegedly involved Golden Dawn in their continuing struggle against the stubborn unions which wouldn’t accept lower wages and less rights.
“We know for a fact there was a direct payment from the bosses of the shipbuilding industry in Perama,” Mr Kabayiannis said, in relation to a donation to the party in the volume of £240,000.
These hands might salute like this sometimes, but they are clean hands. Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, defending the party’s funding while giving the Nazi salute
Sotiris Poulikogiannis is the metalworkers’ union president, and he told Channel 4 News that he believes this transaction ultimately led to a brutal attack by fifty Golden Dawn thugs, carried out against him and other members of the union.
“In 2013, they came with threats and everything,” Mr Poulikoyiannis said.
“On the 12 September they attacked us. On the 17 September, in an event in their offices, they announce that they will start their own union in Perama (a city in Greece). That was new, no one had said anything about a Golden Dawn union until then. [Then] on the 18th [of September], Pavlos Fyssas was murdered, with some of the union founders implicated [in the crime].”
He continued: “On the 19th, one day after the murder and while the country was boiling, the then-president of the employers union, hires the basic core of the Golden Dawn [union].”
Read more from Channel 4 News on Golden Dawn
This “alternative” union was set up promising to provide steady employment in exchange for lower wages in the ailing shipyard and to crash the communist party dominated metalworkers union, but some of those hired were arrested in connection to the murder only days later.
Mr Kabayiannis has submitted a report to the public prosecutor that provides more detail on how much this support cost but also how the party would clear this rather large sum through the offshore companies set up by Golden Dawn’s financial director and his wife.
Mr Kabayiannis also explained how Golden Dawn ran a network of protection rings in the two areas where it was mostly active, Nikaia and Agios Panteleimonas, blackmailing shop owners and immigrants and offering its services for hire to businessmen who wanted to attack rivals, with the co-operation of the police authorities. In both areas, the police chiefs have been suspended and are under investigation following the crackdown.
Golden Dawn’s leadership are facing the Greek courts in two months’ time and more details are likely to emerge. It remains to be seen if the Greek justice system will chase the leads provided by lawyers and witnesses and “follow the money”.
By Yiannis Baboulias