Greek parliament cracks down on Golden Dawn MPs

The leader of Greece's Golden Dawn party Nikos Michaloliakos (centre) is escorted by police to a courthouse in Athens, on October 2, 2013

Greece's parliament on Wednesday lifted the legal immunity of three MPs from the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party who are facing charges of belonging to a criminal organisation.

The chamber also lifted the immunity of three other party lawmakers on lesser charges, amid a month-long crackdown on Golden Dawn's activities following the murder of an anti-fascist musician in September.

A majority of over two-thirds in the 180-seat chamber voted to lift the immunity of lawmakers George Germenis, Efstathios Boukouras and Panagiotis Iliopoulos.

In addition, party spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris and fellow lawmakers Ilias Panagiotaros and Chrysovalantis Alexopoulos will be called to answer lesser charges, a process that first required parliamentary approval.

Kassidiaris and Panagiotaros were already indicted earlier this month, and conditionally freed, on the charge of belonging to a criminal organisation.

Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, his deputy Christos Pappas and lawmaker Yiannis Lagos are already being held in Athens's high security Korydallos prison over the case.

A trial date has yet to be set. If convicted, the suspects face sentences of at least 10 years in prison.

The probe into Golden Dawn was prompted by the murder of hip hop artist Pavlos Fyssas by a self-confessed neo-Nazi supporter last month.

Witnesses have since testified that senior party members were involved in migrant beatings, extortion and possible arms smuggling.

Greek authorities are under international pressure to crack down on Golden Dawn after often turning a blind eye to the group's activities for over a year.

Migrant groups had long noted that complaints lodged against the group had been ignored by the police, where Golden Dawn is known to enjoy support.

A small number of officers have also been arrested in connection with the investigation.

Greek authorities are now moving to also cut the party's access to state funding, in a vote to take place on Thursday.

Other neo-Nazi lawmakers walked out before Wednesday's vote began after dismissing the investigation into the party's activities as a "conspiracy".

The party has 18 MPs overall in the 300-seat chamber. Nine of them have now been tied to the criminal investigation.

Golden Dawn is believed to be in possession of unlicensed firearms which it used to train elite members, according to witness testimony.

Police raids on party offices around the country have mostly found hand-to-hand weapons and few firearms.

But on Wednesday, Greek media said that a cache of weapons found in a fugitive shipowner's villa in southern Athens could be linked to Golden Dawn.

Police late on Tuesday found 20 firearms, 60 daggers and nearly a dozen laser rangefinders in the villa of Anastassios Pallis, who is sought on money laundering charges.

Two unidentified shipowners are believed to be among the party's financial backers, according to witnesses.

Formerly on the fringe of Greek politics, Golden Dawn skyrocketed to popularity by tapping into widespread anger over immigration and unpopular reforms in a country that is currently slogging through its sixth year of recession and where unemployment among the young stands at a staggering 60 percent.

Legal observers say judges handling the Golden Dawn cases are facing a complex web of charges, and warn of a potentially lengthy legal process.

A Supreme Court report has linked Golden Dawn to two murders, including the stabbing death of Fyssas, three attempted murders and numerous assaults.

Golden Dawn denies the charges levelled against it, and claims it is the victim of a smear campaign ahead of next year's local elections.