A Slovakian businessman accused of hiring an undercover journalist to launder dirty money in Hong Kong already had a bank account in the city and should not have needed a front man, the District Court heard yesterday.
Defendant Juraj Jariabka, 35, already controlled an HSBC company bank account in Hong Kong and had no reason to hire another person to open an account in the city unless he was trying to hide the source of the deposited money, the prosecution said.
Last week, key prosecution witness Antonio Papaleo told the court how he mounted an undercover sting operation to expose the suspected financial crimes of the defendant.
On the stand, the 43-year-old Italian journalist said he was hired by Jariabka to come to Hong Kong with the express purpose of setting up bank accounts and front companies to receive the proceeds of crime.
"When the defendant came to Hong Kong, he was already in control of a company account with HSBC," senior public prosecutor Derek Wong said yesterday. "It shows he was able to open an account by himself and thus there was no reason for Mr Papaleo to open an account on the defendant's behalf."
The Slovak denies one count of incitement to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence.
Defence counsel Philip Ross objected to the submission of the bank affirmation as evidence, saying the account was "unconnected" to the case, but was overruled by Judge David Dufton.
"It is absolutely relevant to submit it," prosecutor Wong said. "If [on the stand] the defendant cannot explain the sources of the money, it strengthens the prosecution's case about why he would need another person to open the accounts in Hong Kong."
Money laundering is defined as the processing of criminal proceeds to disguise their illegal origin, according to the Financial Action Task Force, an international inter-government body that includes Hong Kong as a member.
Jariabka was arrested by Hong Kong police in the IFC Mall in June last year on the back of evidence obtained by Papaleo using a hidden camera.
Footage played before the court appeared to show Jariabka instructing the undercover journalist to set up two companies and a bank account in Hong Kong for a payment of €5,000 (HK$52,730).
The former television and radio reporter told the court he had been in hiding since the defendant's arrest and had not dared show his face in Slovakia, where he had been living previously. During his investigation, Papaleo had adopted the guise of a down-and-out drug addict, who went by the pseudonym Tony Corleone — a moniker he borrowed from gangster film The Godfather.
Papaleo denied being a drug addict in reality, but admitted to being destitute.
"Money is not important in my life," he said.
The case continues on Thursday.