One of the leaders of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party has refused to turn himself in, on the day that dozens of colleagues began jail terms.
Christos Pappas, 58, defied the court order and reports said Greek police were searching for him.
Earlier this month, the entire leadership of Golden Dawn was convicted of running a criminal organisation.
Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and senior colleagues were given 13 years in jail, after a five-year trial.
Golden Dawn had 18 MPs elected amid Greece’s crippling financial crisis in 2012, but a criminal inquiry began into the party the following year after the murder of an anti-fascist musician.
The sentences were passed on 14 October but Greek law does allow for the start of jail terms to be suspended during the appeals process.
However, a court ruled on Thursday that most of the jail sentences should start straight away. Michaloliakos was among 37 people who turned themselves in. Giorgos Roupakias, who was convicted of the 2013 murder of the musician and given a life sentence, was under house arrest and was also handed over.
While Pappas evaded arrest, a former member of the party hierarchy, Ioannis Lagos, who was also convicted and faces 13 years in jail, currently has immunity as he was elected as a Europe MP last year.
What happened to Pappas?
Christos Pappas’s lawyer said his client would not surrender as he expected his conviction to be quashed on appeal. The former deputy leader also faces 13 years in jail.
Greek reports said police had searched for Pappas at his Athens home and also a property in northern Greece late on Thursday.
There was some surprise that police had allowed him to evade arrest as he was among several Golden Dawn figures supposedly being kept under scrutiny. Some reports indicated he had not been seen for several weeks.
Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis came under pressure to resign over Pappas’s escape. “You had one job!” complained lawyer Thanassis Kampagiannis, who took part in the trial.
Pappas has gone on the run before, when Golden Dawn leaders were arrested in 2013 over the murder of anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas.
A founder member and a close friend of the party leader, Pappas has for decades had an obsession with Nazism and was widely seen as Golden Dawn’s ideological godfather. He has been photographed under a Nazi flag and filmed teaching children to do the Hitler salute.
Who is going to jail?
More than 50 people were sentenced to jail terms. Although prosecutors recommended they should all remain at liberty pending appeals, the court said on Thursday that 39 should go to jail while 12 others would remain free as their cases continued to be heard.
Giorgos Roupakias was taken to Malandrino jail, 200km (125 miles) to the west of the capital, to start his life sentence.
Twenty of those detained, including the main leaders, were sent to Domokos prison in central Greece.
Six of the party’s leaders face 13 years behind bars for running a criminal group, another 11 ex-MPs face lesser sentences of up to seven years for taking part in it.
“We will be vindicated by history and by the Greek people,” the party leader claimed.
Five Golden Dawn members were jailed for the attempted murders of Egyptian fishermen and three for the attempted murder of communist activists in the PAME union.