Jim Dee, Daily Ireland USA correspondent, 26 june 2006
– Chef asks why suspect in such a high-profile spy scandal – who would be expected to stay below PSNI radar – should hound police to gain more access to his son – Suspect says extradition is pushed by British Intelligence elements intent on undermining peace process
Larry Zaitschek awoke last Friday expecting to learn more about a Belfast judge’s intention to grant him expanded contact with his son.
Instead, he learned that he may soon be behind bars awaiting extradition to Belfast for a crime that he swears he had no involvment in.
“I had nothing to do with the break-in at Castlereagh,” Zaitschek told Daily Ireland hours after it emerged that the PSNI will seek his extradition for the March 2002 burglary. “I don’t even think about it. My whole focus is my son – all day, everyday.”
Zaitschek believes it’s no coincidence that the PSNI’s extradition move began days after a Belfast judge decided to grant him more contact with his eight-year-old son Pearse, who’s been with his estranged wife in a police witness protection programme since 2002.
He said that the new court order, which he expects to be formally issued on Thursday, will grant him regular (albeit PSNI-monitored) phone calls with Pearse, as well as the exchange of audio and video tapes, and letters. The US consulate in Belfast will again be allowed to visit Pearse on Zaitschek’s behalf (an arrangement that was revoked at his ex-wife’s request after two consular visits in 2002 and 2003). Zaitschek will also be given redacted reports relating to Pearse’s schooling, as well as medical reports.
The greater contact with Pearse hasn’t emerged by accident. Over the past four years, Zaitschek has spent thousands of dollars and countless hours pursuing legal actions to force the PSNI to yield to his demands.
Persistently reminding the PSNI of your existence via ongoing court actions could be viewed as odd behaviour for a man allegedly up to his neck in the Castlereagh break-in.
Some might think it more prudent for a suspect in such a high-profile espionage scandal to lie low, and stay off the PSNI’s radar. Instead Zaitschek has hounded the PSNI.
And believes that his dogged judicial battle against the PSNI to gain more access to Pearse helped trigger the PSNI’s recent extradition move.
“If I never pursued any contact with my son, and just ran and hid, I don’t think this would have happened at any stage,” insisted Zaitschek.”It’s because I kept pushing. And I kept pushing because I had nothing to do with Castlereagh.”
As he had done when interviewed by Daily Ireland last December, Zaitschek stressed that the route leading to his Castlereagh employment was pure happenstance – and not part of some clever plan to penetrate Belfast’s top secret cop shop.
His journey to Castlereagh’s kitchen began in August 1998, when he was driving to his home on the Antrim coast after leaving a Belfast restaurant where he worked.
His car flipped over after hitting a boulder that had fallen off a tractor. His back was broken in the accident and he spent two weeks in the hospital before being discharged with instructions not to return to work for at least three months.
“A couple of months later, to be quite honest, I couldn’t stand being at home every single day with my mother-in-law right next door,” he said.
“So, despite my doctor’s advice, I went to get kind of an easy job – not your typical restaurant job where you’re working 60 hours a week. I wanted something more relaxed.”
Visiting a training and employment centre in Larne, he spied an index card on a wall advertising a chef’s opening at Castlereagh. He applied and got the job.
“And the 37 and a half hours the Castlereagh job offered – that’s part time for me,” said Zaitschek.
Following the Castlereagh break-in, much was made of his friendship with Sinn Fein’s Denis Donaldson who was exposed as a long-time British spy last December and subsequently murdered in Donegal.
Numerous media reports suggested that Zaitschek conspired with Donaldson to help pull off the Castlereagh burglary.
However, Zaitschek continues to maintain that his friendship with Donaldson, which began when the two met in his native New York in the early 1990s, was nothing more than casual. He says that, following his relocation to Ireland in 1995, he and Donaldson met socially a few times, but that they fell out of touch in mid-1997 and never saw each other again.
Zaitschek says that contrary to reports indicating that he left Ireland in a panic following the Castlereagh break-in, he’d given his employers a month’s notice and had purchased his plane ticket “well in advance” of leaving.
“I had a career opportunity here in New York, Someone was offering me $70,000 (£38,500; €56,000) a year, as opposed to the $30,000 (£16,500; €24,000) a year I was making there,” said Zaitschek.
He has “good luck” cards that were given to him by PSNI officers, some of whom took him out on the town drinking to say good-bye.
Members of Sinn Fein have, in the past, made allegations that, whenever the stalled peace process shows even the remotest hint of movement, something like Castlereagh, Colombia, Stormontgate, or Denis Donaldson’s killing suddenly surfaces to muddy the waters.
As such, with the latest “last-ditch effort” to revive the assembly wobbling but still alive, the timing of the PSNI’s extradition move seems suspicious to some. Zaitschek himself believes that the PSNI’s extradition move has likely been pushed by Special Branch or British intelligence elements intent on undermining the peace process.
“Anybody would be blind and completely living in another reality to suggest that the two aren’t connected,” insisted Zaitschek.
“You had Colombia and the Colombia Three, and that kind of fell apart. Then you had the Stormont situation, and we all know what happened with that. And then you have Castlereagh. In terms of actual cases, this is the last opportunity that some people have to resist change.”
Zaitschek said that, regardless of why he has been placed in the frame regarding Castlereagh, he’ll never admit responsibility for a crime he claims he never committed.
“I am going to fight this – and I have support here from family and friends in the Irish-American community, and probably beyond,” he insists. “I’m going to fight this with every possible shred of fight that I have in me.”