An intriguing international money-laundering trial took another dramatic turn yesterday after it was revealed that the defendant's business partner had access to a key witness' police statement.
The revelation came as the defence questioned the personal habits of prosecution witness Antonio Papaleo and disputed suggestions he had been hired to launder dirty money.
Papaleo, 43, an Italian journalist, told the District Court he was "totally shocked" after a number of people contacted him last year inquiring about the case.
He said they had been approached by Austrian national Jozef Drlicka, who quoted the witness' official statement given to Hong Kong police.
"I was totally shocked and immediately referred the issues … to Hong Kong police," said Papaleo, who has been hiding in Europe since last summer.
The court then heard that Drlicka would be arrested if he came to the city to offer evidence.
Last week, Papaleo told the court how he mounted an undercover sting operation to expose suspected financial crimes by defendant Juraj Jariabka.
He said the Slovak national had hired him to come to Hong Kong to set up front companies and bank accounts to launder the proceeds of crime.
Hong Kong police arrested Jariabka last June using video evidence Papaleo had recorded with 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.
Footage played in court appeared to show Jariabka and Drlicka convincing an undercover Papaleo to take up the job for €5,000 (HK$52,880) payment.
But defence counsel Philip Ross asked if Papaleo's remarks on the operation's "illegality" were true.
"I put to you the defendant never encouraged you to launder money," Ross told Papaleo, eliciting sharp disagreement from the witness.
On the stand, Papaleo also denied being an alcoholic and a drug addict, dismissing a suggestion that he could not remember the details of a meeting because he had been under the influence of marijuana.
As part of his undercover stint, Papaleo had adopted the guise of an alcoholic, drug-addled junkie known as Tony Corleone - a moniker borrowed from gangster film The Godfather. The case continues tomorrow.