The case against a New York chef who was accused of being involved in a break-in at a top security base in Belfast on St. Patrick’s Day, 2002 hs been dropped.
The Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland (PPS) dropped its case against Larry Zaitschek, 41, on July 3 saying it was unable to give him a fair trial because the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said last week that new evidence regarding the break-in at Castlereagh Special Branch offices in Belfast could not be released for security reasons.
Although Zaitschek, who has clamed his innocence from day one, said he was “relieved” at the news, he said he was still extremely “angry” that it’s taken seven years for authorities to say he would never be put on trial.
“I’m still very angry that the PSNI had it in for me from the beginning,” said Zaitschek, who was dubbed by the media as Larry the Chef at the time.
“Since day one I’ve known they had no case against me because I’m innocent and they waited seven-and-a-half years to tell me,” he said.
“They said they couldn’t give me a fair trail because they couldn’t disclose new evidence for security reasons. Well in my opinion I’ve never received a fair trial since day one.”
Added Zaitschek, “Over the last number of year, the PPS and PSNI, to cover up their own ineptitude, had attempted to have me hung, drawn and quartered in the court of public opinion, with total disregard for my right to a fair trial, and my right to family life. I will now take immediate steps to take those rights back.”
Describing the decision by the PPS to drop his case as nothing more than “face-saving,” he said, “The PPS now expects the public to swallow its line that new information came to its attention after seven and a half years, which the PSNI conveniently cannot make available,” he said.
Zaitschek, accused of aggravated burglary, assault and imprisonment of a police officer, had been working in the kitchen at Castlereagh since 1998 and finished up working there a month before the break-in.
According to police reports, three men walked in to a highly secure room packed full of sensitive security information at Castlereagh, the PSNI's intelligence hub in Northern Ireland, tied up a police officer and stole dozens of Special Branch files. These files included details of Special Branch officers and their agents' code words. To secure the identity and protect the officers and others, millions of pounds was spent relocating and re-housing them.
Zaitschek left his job at Castlereagh because he needed to return to New York for a short time.
“My father had health issues and I had a job lined up here so I needed to come back. That is why I handed in my formal resignation a month before I left. It wasn’t like I snuck out the back door and secretly fled to the U.S.”
Zaitschek, who was born in New York City but moved to Belfast in 1995 to friends and family, has not seen his son, Pearse, since the accusations. Pearce and his mother, Zaitschek’s ex-wife, were put into a witness protection program shortly after the break-in.
“Pearse was three-and-a-half when I last saw him,” said Zaitschek sadly. “And I miss him every single day since.”
Zaitschek, who now lives and works in New York since the incident, promises to focus all his energies on making contact with his lost son and will heed advise from his lawyers on whether or not he should return to Northern Ireland in the near future.
Zaitschek describes his life since the break-in as a constant battle.
“To be honest the most painful part of the whole thing was the separation from my son,” he said.
Zaitschek, who claims he has been harassed by the PSNI and has had his life threatened on several occasions, said the whole ordeal for past seven years has “hindered” him from moving forward with life.
“It has affected my ability to get job, my relationship with son, traveling, just every aspect of my life, and financially it’s devastated me also,” he said.
A few weeks after the break-in Zaitschek said FBI agents jumped him after getting off a subway in Manhattan. FBI agents and members of the special branch interrogated him.
“From then on my world just changed,” he said. “I’ve lost jobs because of it. I used to go on job interviews and then all would be great until someone would Google my name and there went the job.”
At one point Zaitschek’s relationship with IRA informant Denis Donaldson was up for question. But, said Zaitschek, he met Donaldson when he was living in New York in the early 1990s but didn’t see much of him after moving to Ireland. The last time he recalls seeing him was in 1997.
Zaitschek said he was shocked to find out that Donaldson admitted to being a British spy in 2005.
“I was very shocked when I heard he was apparently an informer. I never knew really what to believe about that,” he says.
While the PPS were looking for Zaitschek to be extradited back to Northern Ireland, he said after a while it “became obvious to me there a few years back that it didn’t seem like they were going to extradite me at all,” he said.
Yet he could never move on. His son was in Ireland, but if he went back to try and find him he risked being arrested for something he claims he never did.
“It has really been a non-stop battle,” he said. “The PSNI really interfered with my relationship with my son.
“I was very close to my son. I always wanted to be a father and when he was around me on a regular basis it was the happiest time of my life, I love him very much.”
Zaitschek said many questions must be answered to now.
“The whole thing was a sham from the beginning. Really just unbelievable what I’ve gone through and people, when I tell them, just can’t believe it,” he said.
Zaitschek feels that the PSNI had a political agenda all this time. “They were just trying to bring the peace process down. They had their own political agenda,” he said.
“I really miss Belfast and my family and friends over there. I can’t wait to go back, but I will await my lawyer’s advice on that one for now,” he said.
Zaitschek said he will seek justice for what he has been put through. “I’m going to take my time, that is for sure, and not rush in, but there is no way I’m going to let them (PSNI) off the hook,” he said.
Zaitschek said he would not have gotten through the last seven years without the support of the Irish American community in New York.
“So many people helped me out, organized events, helped me put a website together and a committee. Those people are really dear to me, especially Eamonn Dornan who guided me though all this,” he said.