Reporters Without Borders urges the relevant authorities to protect Antonio Papaleo, an Italian journalist who is being threatened after infiltrating the criminal underworld to investigate money laundering between Prague and Hong Kong.
A self-styled “truth seeker” based in Slovakia who edits the online newspaper “La Voce,” Papaleo specializes in investigating organized crime and has already worked on several stories involving corruption and international trafficking. Using his own name, he set about acquiring the reputation of a corrupt, alcoholic and drug-taking journalist in 2010 and 2011 in order to increase his appeal to the criminal circles he wanted to infiltrate. His latest investigation, begun in 2012, led to the arrests and trial of several suspects. It also resulted in death threats against Papaleo and a lack of interest on the part of the police in the European countries concerned. “After risking his life to do investigative reporting, Papaleo is being rewarded by death threats from the criminal underworld and the indifference of many European officials who have been alerted to the situation,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “The Slovakian and Italian authorities must get involved and must help a citizen who has rendered a service of public interest. Concrete measures must be taken to protect Papaleo so that he can recover a normal life after exposing himself to great danger for more than two years.” In 2012, Papaleo started establishing contact with Czech and Slovak criminals involved in money-laundering in Hong Kong and Dubai, who decided to use him as the frontman of an operation to launder millions of euros involving the creation of two shell companies and many bank accounts. After travelling to Hong Kong to open two bank accounts for this purpose, he tried to report what he had learned to the Czech and Slovak authorities, and to Interpol, on his return but they showed little interest. So Papaleo went back to Hong Kong and reported his findings to the Special Bureau for Narcotic and Financial Crimes, which took him seriously and began an investigation. After the Hong Kong police arrested the head of the ring in May 2013, Papaleo received several death threats. Since then, the Hong Kong police have been asking the European authorities in vain to provide him with protection. As a result of the complete lack of support from the European authorities, Papaleo went into hiding after testifying at the trial in Hong Kong last month. Papaleo’s financial situation is also poor because he has earned little from the story although it enabled the Hong Kong authorities to bring down a ring that was laundering a great deal of money. The care he took to always act legally makes the lack of both protection and recognition all the more shocking.