Pattaya, Thailand: A former Sydney kick-boxing champion charged with abducting and murdering an organised crime figure has told a court he fled Thailand for Cambodia because he was “scared” of the Australian outlaw motorcycle gang Hell’s Angels and Thai police.
Antonio Bagnato, 26, also named the Hell’s Angels as being involved in the murder of Wayne Rodney Schneider who was tortured and buried in a grave in a forest near the Thai seaside city of Pattaya in December 2015.
Handcuffed and with iron shackles on his bare feet, Bagnato replied “no, I did not” when asked if he murdered Schneider, his former business associate who he once worked for as a bodyguard.
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However, two security guards at the villa told the court they identified Bagnato as one of five men they saw bundling Schneider into a rented pick-up truck. The other kidnappers wore hoods.
Bagnato told the court Schneider had fled Australia in fear of the Hell’s Angels.
Police suspect that 37-year-old Schneider, who frequented Pattaya’s seedy go-go bars and clubs, was kidnapped as part of an attempt to extort money from him after he played a key role in a huge drug importation from Europe to Australia.
Sources have told Fairfax Media that Schneider used Pattaya as a base to run an extensive criminal network in Europe and Asia worth tens of millions of dollars.
Schneider’s grave was found 30 kilometres from where he was kidnapped, after GPS on a hire car led police to the site.
Bagnato has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, deprivation of liberty and concealing a body in a trial in Pattaya Provincial Court, where prosecutors say they have been unable to locate a number of key witnesses.
Heavily tattooed Bagnato, who gave his occupation as kick boxer, faces the death penalty if convicted, but executions are rarely carried out in Thailand.
He told the court that Schneider, a former top Hell’s Angels member who was once on Australia’s most wanted list, was a friend who told him six to seven months before his murder that “he had a problem with the Hell’s Angels in Australia and went to Thailand to get away from them”.
Asked if he was aware of the Hell’s Angels, Bagnato said: “They are on the news for a lot for drugs, murder and guns.”
The Hell’s Angels chapter openly runs a bar with adjoining private members rooms called Angel’s Place in Pattaya, where a commemorative stone has been erected in Schneider’s honour.
“Angels never die RIP Wayne81,” it reads. “Our brother never forgotten.”
Many of the chapter’s members are Australians.
Bagnato told the court he went to Schneider’s villa the night he was kidnapped, where he saw notorious Melbourne bikie Amad “Jay” Malkoun, who was questioned by police after the murder but two days later was surprisingly allowed to leave Thailand for Dubai, where he has been living since resigning as president of the Comanchero bikie gang in 2013.
Malkoun, a convicted drug trafficker, claimed he slept through the abduction.
Bagnato testified that a woman friend picked him up at the villa in a small white sedan four hours before the kidnapping. He denied he went back to the villa.
Bagnato said the first he heard of the kidnapping was when Malkoun called him at about noon in the woman’s apartment after they had left the Marine nightclub between 5am and 6am.
“Amad told me the Hell’s Angels had kidnapped Wayne. He told me to go the Australian embassy for help because he didn’t trust the Hell’s Angels or Thai police.”
Bagnato said after twice going to the Australian embassy when it was closed, he caught a bus from Bangkok to Cambodia and while in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh was advised by the Australian embassy to wait there to be arrested.
He was taken into custody in a joint operation by Thai and Cambodian police and flown to a military base in Thailand where he was interrogated and charged.
Bagnato has had a falling-out in jail with 21-year-old American Tyler Gerard, who is also charged with Schneider’s murder.
Police allege that Gerard, who was arrested at an immigration checkpoint as he tried to cross into Cambodia, drove the kidnap vehicle.
But Gerard has told his lawyers he was not involved and was incapacitated after a motorbike accident at the time.
Three other suspects involved in the murder are still on the run. Two of them are believed to have fled to Australia.
Report shared by The Brisbane Times