A key witness in the international money laundering trial of an eastern European businessman in Hong Kong has been placed under police protection after being stabbed twice in the Thai holiday destination of Phuket.
Antonio Papaleo, 44, was riding pillion on a motorcycle when a gang of eight youths, also on motorcycles, surrounded him and kicked him off the bike on Friday.
While the driver of his motorcycle, Russian national Inna Sifonova, was assaulted on the ground, Papaleo was knifed twice in the stomach as he tried to prevent the theft of a bag containing his valuables.
Speaking to the Sunday Morning Post from his hospital bed, Papaleo said he did not know if the attack was linked to his testimony in Hong Kong or whether it was random violence.
"Police said nothing like this had happened before. An assault by a crazy gang is not usual here," said Papaleo, who required surgery and lost his spleen as a result of the attack.
"The knife went centimetres into my stomach," he said.
Papaleo was originally being treated in a public ward, but was later moved to a private room with police protection after media tipped off the hospital as to his role in the trial, Thai newspapers reported.
Originally from Italy, journalist Papaleo testified in Hong Kong's District Court last month that he went undercover to expose a suspected international money laundering scheme.
He told the court he adopted the guise of a down-and-out junkie and alcoholic so he could infiltrate the alleged network of defendant Juraj Jariabka, who denies the charges against him.
He was given police protection in Hong Kong for the duration of his testimony, but the assistance ended when he left the stand.
Jariabka was arrested by Hong Kong police in the IFC mall last year on the back of video evidence obtained by the former television reporter using a pinhole camera.
The cases resumes for legal submissions on August 12.
Thai police arrested seven of a total nine suspects in connection with the attack in Phuket. All were under the age of 18, except for the self-confessed knifeman, Ekawat "Ek" Nilaku, who is 20.
Residents from the area where the attack took place, near Karon Beach, said they believed the youths were high on methamphetamine at the time.
Less than half an hour after the attack on Papaleo, another victim, Russian Sofya Tolstova, 22, was stabbed by the same gang after resisting robbery.
The assailants have been charged with armed robbery and attempted murder.