'Slovak diplomat threatened witness' in money-laundering case

Italian journalist alleges Slovakian embassy staff tried to intimidate him during court break in money-laundering case

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 10:45am

An undercover Italian journalist on a sting operation to expose a suspected eastern European gangster yesterday claimed he was threatened by a diplomat from the defendant's home country during a break.

Key prosecution witness Antonio Papaleo told the District Court after the recess that an individual in the public gallery had been "very aggressive" and had stared at him in an intimidating manner for about 10 seconds.

The person concerned later denied the accusations, identifying himself as a diplomat from the Slovakian embassy in Beijing.

A former reporter with Italian national television, Papaleo has been in hiding since June, after Hong Kong police arrested Slovak national Juraj Jariabka using video evidence obtained by the journalist using a hidden camera.

The Slovak denies one count of incitement to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence.

Footage played in court appeared to show Jariabka hiring Papaleo to come to Hong Kong and create bank accounts and companies, which the prosecution argued were to receive the proceeds of crime.

In his investigation, Papaleo adopted the guise of a morally depraved and desperate drug addict, going by a pseudonym - Tony Corleone - from The Godfather series, the court heard.

"I was asked to open companies and bank accounts and then give the defendant the details and control of the accounts," said Papaleo, who was told he would receive €5,000 (HK$53,095) for his efforts. "I know this is not usual and related to hiding the source and beneficiaries of a financial transaction."

In the video, Papaleo is heard trying to tease out the exact nature of Jariabka's business activities, but being rebuffed.

The court heard on Thursday that a criminal syndicate might be involved in the operations.

"I was told the job was not criminal, but was illegal," Papaleo said.

According to the prosecution, the defendant brought Papaleo to Hong Kong last May and asked him to set up bank accounts with Standard Chartered, Bank of China and Citibank because HSBC had anti-money-laundering procedures in place.

Although Papaleo entered the banks, he feigned setting up the accounts as he did not wish to commit any crime in Hong Kong, the prosecution said.

After realising Slovakian police would not take action against the defendant, Papaleo informed Hong Kong police, who arrested Jariabka on June 14 last year.

The case continues on Wednesday.