A former Fairfax journalist being sued for defamation says he had only intended to raise the strong suspicion that Chinese-Australian billionaire Chau Chak Wing had bribed the UN president.
"I thought it was probably true but it was not my purpose to be prosecution, judge and jury," John Garnaut testified in the Federal Court in Sydney on Thursday.
He was giving evidence in Dr Chau's defamation action against him and Fairfax Media over an online story published in October 2015.
The businessman, philanthropist and political donor says the article conveys four defamatory meanings including that he bribed former UN president John Ashe and was part of a plot to bribe him.
Garnaut, who was Fairfax's Asia Pacific editor at the time, testified that he took great care to not convey those meanings in his story.
"I took great care to write it as a possibility not as an actual fact," he said.
The article was published after US prosecutors accused businesswoman Sheri Yan and her finance chief of arranging for a $US2000,000 bribe to be paid in 2013 to Mr Ashe, who had appeared at a function at Dr Chau's Guangzhou resort.
Dr Chau's lawyer Bruce McClintock SC referred to an internal Fairfax email written before the article's publication in which the journalist wrote "he's f****d", referring to the billionaire.
Garnaut denied he meant "he's guilty", saying it "was just me saying he is in trouble".
The email was sent after Garnaut, who was in New Delhi, spoke on the phone to Dr Chau's daughter Winky, who was in a car in China.
She told him: "The whole thing is a misunderstanding ... we are going to issue a statement to clarify the whole thing" before the line cut out.
Garnau told the court he thought she was stalling, sounded flustered and probably hung up on him, which gave him strong grounds for believing no innocent explanation was going to be forthcoming.
"I want to suggest your conclusion that you drew from this conversation, that he's f****d, was entirely unreasonable and ridiculous," Mr McClintock said.
Earlier he told his lawyer James Hmelnitsky SC that he had come to believe that a co-conspirator referred to as CC-3 was Dr Chau who "on the face of it was the alleged bribe giver".
In investigating the story, he spoke to Ms Yan's husband, Roger Uren, who told him his wife would never do anything she believed to be illegal or improper.
Mr Uren also told him Dr Chau had paid $US200,000 to Mr Ashe as a speaking fee and Mr Uren didn't believe it was a bribe.
The hearing continues before Justice Michael Wigney.