Journalist denies trying to implicate government

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 4:35am

A key prosecution witness in an international money-laundering trial who alleges he was threatened by an Eastern European diplomat in the court building yesterday denied trying to implicate the envoy's government in a financial scandal.

On May 16, Italian journalist Antonio Papaleo told the District Court he had been intimidated during a bathroom break by a person from the public gallery. That individual, whom he said he did not know, stared at him "in an aggressive manner for more than 10 seconds".

The person concerned later denied the accusations and was yesterday identified by defence counsel Philip Ross as the deputy head of the Slovak diplomatic mission to China.

Ross asked the Italian whether he was trying to give the impression that the Slovak government was involved in money-laundering activities.

"No, I'm not trying to give any impression … I had no idea who that person was," said Papaleo, who was giving evidence in the trial of Slovak national Juraj Jariabka.

Last week, Papaleo told the court how he mounted an undercover sting operation in an attempt to expose suspected financial crimes by the defendant. The former radio and television reporter said he was hired by Jariabka to come to Hong Kong with the express purpose of setting up front companies and opening bank accounts to launder the proceeds of crime. The Slovak was arrested by Hong Kong police in June last year using video evidence obtained by the journalist using a hidden camera.

Jariabka has pleaded not guilty to one count of incitement to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence.

On the stand, Papaleo also denied he was an alcoholic and a drug addict, dismissing a notion that he had smoked marijuana every day for the past five years.

As part of his undercover investigation into the Eastern European underworld, he told the court he adopted the guise of an alcoholic, drug-addled junkie, who drank methamphetamine each morning and washed his mouth out with whiskey.

"I am very good at creating a legend around me," Papaleo said.

The court had earlier heard that Papaleo used the pseudonym Tony Corleone, a moniker he borrowed from gangster film The Godfather.

The trial continues tomorrow before Judge David Dufton.