Prison finale for Greek dictator's disciple and Hitler admirer

Nikos Michaloliakos, the founder of Greece's neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn who was handed a 13-year prison sentence on Wednesday, is a dictator's disciple, Hitler admirer, and one of the longest-running party leaders in the country.

Michaloliakos's Golden Dawn party was once the third largest in parliament. (Photo: AFP)

Michaloliakos was convicted last week of running Golden Dawn as a criminal organisation that preyed on political opponents and migrants after a landmark trial that stretched out over five years.

The 62-year-old mathematician and Holocaust denier rode a wave of popular anger over austerity to steer his once-fringe party to third place in 2015 elections.

The investigation into the party was ordered after one of its militants murdered anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013.

Once the trial started, in 2015, prosecutors worked to prove that the openly xenophobic and anti-Semitic group operated under a military-style leadership that encouraged intimidation beatings -- and even killings.

Michaloliakos, a disgraced former officer cadet and devotee of Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos, had already spent time in prison in the late 1970s in connection with a spate of bombing attacks.

- 'Pack of lies' -

Defending himself in court last November, he said the charges were "the result of a political plot" to stem his party's popularity.

"There is no criminal organisation... I gave no order to murder. It's all a pack of lies," he insisted.

Michaloliakos denied that Golden Dawn operated combat squads. The party's adherence to military-style discipline was "a figure of speech", he insisted.

"I did not exhort anyone to violence," he said, noting that even the French national anthem "talks about the blood of enemies spilling in the streets".

But the prosecutors argued that Golden Dawn set up militia dressed in black who patrolled the streets, often armed with knuckle dusters, crowbars and knives.

Initially handpicked by ex-dictator Papadopoulos to lead the youth of far-right group EPEN after the junta fell, Nikos Michaloliakos founded Golden Dawn in the mid-1980s, making him one of the longest-serving party leaders in Greece.

- Hitler a 'visionary' -

Michaloliakos's first elected post was as an Athens city councillor in 2010, and even then, he made a point of being provocative. He would turn up to sessions with bodyguards and was filmed taunting a left-wing opponent with fascist salutes.

At the time of its inception and for years thereafter, Golden Dawn glorified Adolf Hitler and the warrior ethos of Nazi Germany in its party publications.

One of the party's older texts called Hitler a "visionary of new Europe".

"Faith in the words of the Fuehrer, and faith in victory, grows in our hearts. The fight goes on, the future is ours," the text read.

This rhetoric was later toned down as the party adjusted its message to address Greek voter concerns over austerity and illegal immigration.

Even so, in a May 2012 interview Michaloliakos effectively denied the Holocaust. "There were no crematoria," he said. "It's a lie. Or gas chambers."

In 2013, he compared black Greek NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo to a "chimpanzee".

After a wave of arrests in 2013, police found firearms and other weapons as well as Nazi and fascist memorabilia in party members' homes.

Much of that came from the home of deputy leader Christos Pappas, where police recovered swastika flags and bottles stamped with images of Italy's fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

- Blood and honour -

From the fringe of Greek politics, Golden Dawn surged to over 426,000 in June 2012 after pledging to "scour the country" of illegal immigrants.

Many of its voters and members were police officers.

At the height of its power in 2013 the party was polling at 10 percent, making it the third most popular party in the country.

It denied any neo-Nazi affiliation even though its slogan was "Blood, Honour, Golden Dawn", the first two words closely associated with neo-Nazi ideology.

Golden Dawn said its members were anti-corruption nationalists, attacking mainstream parties as "traitors" and "thieves".

That approach tapped into widespread anger against the string of conservative and socialist governments that brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy in 2010.

They also capitalised on a perceived rise in the crime rate, which they blamed on migrants. Michaloliakos called illegal immigration a "wound" for Greece. 

The party entered parliament in 2012, its lawmakers repeatedly shocking the chamber with provocative and aggressive behaviour.

Last year, however, it failed to win a single seat in parliamentary elections.