Last week, Slovakian businessman and Discovery Bay resident Juraj Jariabka was jailed for four years for his part in a money-laundering plot. However, the key witness whose evidence put him away, Italian freelance journalist Antonio Papaleo, is still receiving death threats for his efforts. Today, Papaleo, 44, reveals the amazing story of how he infiltrated the Slovakian underworld, travelled to Hong Kong to clean dirty cash at their behest and went as far as throwing himself down a flight of stairs at a high-society diplomatic cocktail party just to maintain his cover story. Down and out in Bratislava In 2012, following the maxim that the best lies have some basis in truth, I chose the cover identity of a morally bankrupt, corrupt and substance-abusing journalist named "Tony Corleone" - the shortened form of my first name and a surname borrowed from The Godfather trilogy. Over a period of months, moving in the right circles, I gained the trust of a number of criminals who populate the not inconsiderable underworld of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. In May 2013, opportunity finally came knocking. An underworld acquaintance, Jozef "Dodo" Drlicka, approached me, with the offer of a job in Hong Kong. The job would be easy, well-paid and there was no chance I could go to jail, he assured me. At this point, I knew I had hooked a big fish. A meeting was arranged. I was told to go to the Goblin pub in Bratislava to meet Juraj "Armani" Jariabka - the man who last week was jailed for four years in Hong Kong. Powerfully built and imposing - if gone to seed somewhat - the 36-year-old Jariabka wanted me to be a financial proxy: to travel to Hong Kong and set up front companies and bank accounts that would ultimately be controlled by him. I immediately realised I was being hired - for an initial lump sum of €5,000 (HK$50,000) plus expenses - to hide the source and beneficiaries of shady financial transactions potentially worth hundreds of millions of euros. I used a hidden camera to record the entire meeting with Jariabka and the footage was later used as evidence in court - including some unsavory images of a trip to the bathroom. Stay sober, fly to Hong Kong and await further instructions, Jariabka told me. Journey to the east A Czech man in his 20s met me on arrival at Chek Lap Kok airport. He was shifty, evasive and refused to tell me his name. He gave me a mobile phone loaded with a local SIM card and escorted me to the Island Pacific Hotel in Sheung Wan. Be ready in the morning when you will receive further instructions, he said. It was obvious hotel staff knew the man, so I slipped the concierge a HK$100 tip and in return he wrote down the name Jakub Planka. I quickly headed for Sham Shui Po, to buy a new hidden camera, as well as a GPS device that would keep my friends in Europe informed of my whereabouts in the event that things took a turn for the worse and I might end up "sleeping with the fishes". The next morning, I was summoned to the oval atrium of the IFC mall, where Jariabka instructed me to "clone" two existing companies by registering new ones with similar names. I was also to open a bank account, preferably with Standard Chartered or Bank of China, due to the fact that HSBC had stricter anti-money-laundering regulations in place, Jariabka told me. This was my trial run; if I did this successfully, not only would I get my first financial reward, more jobs were likely to follow. The first stop was a legally constituted firm in Central that facilitates the incorporation of companies. Such "company houses" assist all manner of customers: from the law-abiding individuals in search of privacy to people with more nefarious lines of business. The process of incorporating the two front companies was straightforward, with a consultant at the firm laughing off inquiries about an anti-money-laundering declaration. "This is the anti-money-laundering declaration," she said. "With this you declare not to launder money. Now officially the head of two companies, I headed to Hang Seng Bank, where I met a young, proactive and eager-to-please male teller. Regardless of the fact that my documents were out of date and I had no proof of even running a business, the teller was only too happy to open an account for me. I began to realise just how easy it was to establish a money-laundering operation in Hong Kong. As I did not intend to commit a crime, I did not open the account and fabricated excuses when Jariabka inquired about my progress. I lied and said the whole process would take some time. Buying time, losing face While awaiting news from the banks, Jariabka decided we should fly back to Slovakia, where - fearing for my safety in an ever-changing environment - I reported the whole matter to the police in Bratislava. However, the police were slow to act and the delay forced me into a bind. Jariabka wanted me to return to Hong Kong to finish the job; I needed a pretext to prevent my return to Asia's World City. The pretext used turned out to be one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I decided to bring Dodo, my initial recruiter, to the biggest event of the Italian community in Bratislava: an embassy party for the anniversary of the Italian republic. At this illustrious and formal gathering, I got blind drunk and threw myself down some stairs, resulting in significant bruising and lacerations to my body and face - and hospitalisation. It destroyed my reputation among the Italian community in Slovakia; I will always be known as the man who left a diplomatic party in an ambulance. But the ruse worked. Jariabka was furious and my return to Hong Kong was delayed. Unfortunately, the extra time gained was to no avail: Slovak police told me they could not help. "Money laundering is not a specific crime in Slovakia," read an official police letter. Jariabka and I then returned to Hong Kong. Once alone, I went directly to the Hong Kong police headquarters in Wan Chai. The police acted diligently and following a few hours of verification and examination, they asked me to go undercover again. After I shook Jariabka's hand at a meeting in the IFC atrium in June 2013, plain-clothes police sprung and pinned the Slovak to the ground. He would later be tried and found guilty of money-laundering offences. Running scared What I thought would be the end of the drama turned out to be only the beginning. With my cover blown, I immediately began to receive death threats. A fake Facebook account created under my name showed a body hanging from a tree. Friends in Slovakia were confronted and coerced into revealing my whereabouts. For a year, I went into hiding in Europe. In May this year, I returned to Hong Kong for the third time, to be the key witness in Jariabka's trial. On the opening day of my testimony, I was threatened by a man who later revealed himself to be the deputy head of the Slovak mission to Beijing. During a bathroom break, the man acted aggressively towards me, staring at me for about 10 seconds. Following the incident, the judge ordered police to make "appropriate inquiries". Jariabka's lawyers did everything they could to undermine my credibility. I was accused of being a "fake journalist" and a rogue. I was later heartened to hear that during his verdict, Judge David Dufton referred to my evidence as "cogent and compelling". Police protection ended following the conclusion of my testimony, so I decided to fly to Thailand and lie low while awaiting the verdict. On the second day of my stay in Phuket in July, a friend and I were attacked by eight thugs, all high on methamphetamine. We were kicked off our scooter, robbed and I was stabbed twice in the back. I woke up in a public ward in Phuket Vachira Hospital, discovering that my nightmare was real. Doctors had operated on my stomach for nearly nine hours and my spleen had been removed. I am lucky to still be alive. Following a week of morphine-induced stupor, I learned that Reporters Without Borders had launched an appeal for my safety. Thai police were quick to act and I was assigned a 24-hour private guard. Back to the beginning Jariabka was found guilty of incitement to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence. According to police, he is the first person in Hong Kong to be sentenced for this crime. But although Jariabka is locked up, the puppet-masters pulling his strings continue to operate with impunity. Where is the money coming from? Who are the real big fish? This is not the end of my story. It is only the beginning.