ATHENS, Greece -- The head of Greece's extreme far-right Golden Dawn party testified in court on Wednesday for several hours as part of a long-running trial over the party's activities in which he and several former party lawmakers are accused of running a criminal organization.
Nikos Michaloliakos is the last of 69 defendants, including 18 former lawmakers, to take the stand in the marathon trial that began in April 2015, sparked by the 2013 killing of Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas for which a party volunteer was arrested. He is accused of forming a criminal organization and violating gun laws.
"I want to plead innocent to the charges against me. They are the result of a political conspiracy and targeting (of me) for 25 years," Michaloliakos said, adding that he had condemned Fyssas' killing "from the first minute." He denied any knowledge of the killing, despite the presence of party members from a local branch at the scene.
With all defendants' testimony now complete, the trial will break for the prosecutor's side to prepare their concluding remarks, after which the lawyers will present their closing arguments. The procedure is likely to last several months before the trial concludes.
Michaloliakos and several of his lawmakers were arrested and spent 18 months in jail — the maximum allowed for pre-trial detention — after Fyssas' killing.
Security was tight at the courthouse, where about 100 Golden Dawn supporters were inside and a few hundred anti-fascist demonstrators were protesting outside.
Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn rose to prominence during Greece's crushing financial crisis, evolving from a fringe group to become the country's third-largest parliamentary party in 2014 elections, campaigning on a nationalist, anti-immigrant platform. Party members and supporters have been accused of violent attacks against migrants, including stabbings, beatings and arson.
The party's popularity began to wane in the past couple of years as the trial dragged on, and Golden Dawn failed to win enough votes to enter parliament in general elections held in July this year.