There was drama in the District Court yesterday as a Slovak businessman on trial over an international money-laundering plot was caught making a claim the judge deemed "impossible" - under questioning from his own lawyer.
Defendant Juraj Jariabka told the court he had previously seen a document presented in his defence; namely a passport belonging to his associate. Moments later there were gasps as Jariabka contradicted a claim he made earlier in his defence to explain why he had recruited a man he did not previously know to set up businesses in Hong Kong.
Judge David Dufton told the court it was "impossible" for Jariabka to have seen the passport before, as he had been in Hong Kong since its date of issue. Dufton then called a recess for both sides to reflect on the twist.
Jariabka, 36, stands accused of hiring an Italian man - an undercover journalist - to come to Hong Kong to establish two front companies and set up a bank account, which the prosecution argued were to receive the proceeds of crime. He denies one count of incitement to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence.
He was arrested in the IFC Mall in June last year by Hong Kong police on the back of hidden camera footage obtained by the journalist, Antonio Papaleo.
Earlier this week, the court heard that the businessman hired Papaleo in May last year because his own associate, Jozef Drlieka, had a recently issued passport that might have posed problems when establishing the businesses. Papaleo was simply to set up the operations and then pass control to Drlieka in due course, the defendant said.
Asked yesterday by his counsel, Philip Ross, whether he could recognise Drlieka's passport, Jariabka said he could and confirmed a photocopy shown to him was of the document.
"The passport was issued on May 6 this year. [Drlieka] wanted to give evidence in person [in Hong Kong]," Jariabka told the court through an interpreter.
There were gasps in court shortly after, when Jariabka contradicted his earlier evidence and said that Drlieka did not possess any type of passport at the time of the alleged crime last year.
Dufton quickly pointed out the implausibility of the defendant's comments.
"He [Jariabka] could not possibly have seen this document as he has been here in Hong Kong all the time," Dufton said.
The revelations left the court reeling and prompted Dufton to call a break so the parties could reflect on the developments.
After the break, Ross sought to withdraw the photocopied passport, but was told by Dufton it had been marked for evidence and could be used in the prosecutions' cross-examination. The cases continues on Monday.