21 December 2005

Scapegoat

Daily Ireland

Former chef at Castlereagh base accuses PSNI Special Branch of ‘subterfuge and chicanery’

Jim Dee

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An American chef linked to an alleged break-in at the PSNI’s headquarters in Belfast said yesterday it was ‘very possible’ he had been set up by British agent Denis Donaldson and Special Branch detectives.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Ireland’’s US correspondent Jim Dee, Larry Zaitschek denies any involvement in the 2002 incident at the Castlereagh police complex and claims he has been made a scapegoat by the PSNI.

‘I last met Donaldson five years before the break-in’

The American chef who has been repeatedly cited in press reports as having assisted in the 2002 Castlereagh break-in yesterday vehemently denied having any role in the burglary or any substantial association with British agent Denis Donaldson.
During a wide-ranging interview with Daily Ireland, Larry Zaitschek said: “I have not spoken to Denis Donaldson in many years – and even then I only knew him for a brief period of time. Personally, I liked him very much, but really have no feelings at this time about what has happened to him recently. It’s irrelevant to me.”
Zaitschek, who has lived in New York since returning to the US three days after the Castlereagh burglary, said that he never understood why his casual acquaintance with Donaldson was initially exposed in the media, “and I still don’t understand it today in 2005”.
The former Castlereagh chef said that one unseen victim in the whole break-in saga has been his seven-year-old son Pearse, whom he hasn’t seen since Zaitschek’s estranged wife entered a police witness protection programme in the summer of 2002.
“He is being used as a political pawn by people whose credibility is both none- existent and laughable,” said Zaitschek.
“I wonder why the life and development of my beautiful young son, and the denial of his human right to family life, is not a bigger consideration to the general media than these bogus claims that have been made against me – claims that four years on now remain totally unsubstantiated.”
Zaitschek told Daily Ireland that he can’t recall the exact date on which he met Denis Donaldson, but that it was sometime “in the early ‘90s” in New York city. He said he likely met him at an Irish-related function, and that since Donaldson’s espousal of Irish republican views was his legal and legitimate right, he just took Donaldson at face-value – as a Sinn Féin representative in the US.
He said that, during the brief time that he knew Donaldson, he never felt he was being manipulated.
“I am not malleable, the way people think I am malleable. I’m a very strong-minded and well-read individual. I was not a dupe,” insisted Zaitschek.

Social meeting
After Zaitschek moved to Ireland in late 1995, he said he did initially meet Denis Donaldson again socially on a few occasions.
“When I first got there, I had few friends. So it was brief. I would have called Denis up for a drink, to say ‘hello’, I had met his wife, just to make friends. Eventually I fell out of touch with him completely. That was well before I started working at Castlereagh. I didn’t know a lot of people. I was just starting to meet people – from all walks of life.”

All contact ends
Zaitschek said that when he and the Irishwoman he was seeing decided to get married, he sent Donaldson a wedding invitation. Donaldson never replied.
“He didn’t go to the wedding. He didn’t even respond to the invitation. That was the end of it,” said Zaitschek
“The last I heard from Denis Donaldson was back in ‘97, long before I started working in Castlereagh. And the next time I heard about him was in October of 2002, when I heard he was accused of Stormont.”
Zaitschek insisted that all the stories that ran about him immediately after the Castlereagh break-in were complete fabrications. He said he only ended up at Castlereagh after “an extremely innocuous series of events,” and he'd never been part of some ingenious scheme to infiltrate the interrogation centre.
His journey to Castlereagh's kitchen began one night in August 1998. He was driving towards his house on the Antrim coast after leaving the Great Victoria Street restaurant where he worked, when his car slammed into a boulder that had fallen off a tractor. His car flipped several times and he ended up with a broken back. He spent the next two weeks in the hospital. As he was being discharged, he was told by doctors not to return to work for at least three more months. He spent the ensuing weeks trying to deaden the constant pain with pain-killers, and climbing the walls with boredom.
“I was going absolutely out of my mind. My mother-in-law lived next door and she wouldn’t leave me alone," he said
“So when I could finally walk again, I went down to the training and employment agency in Larne and found job listings for chefs. I filled out several applications and handed them in to the centre’s staff, and within a couple of days, I got a call from the canteen manager at Castlereagh,” who asked him to come in for an interview. A day after his interview, he was hired.

No real evidence
Zaitschek said at no point after he took the Castlereagh job did he ever see or have contact with Denis Donaldson.
“Never once. None,” he insisted.
He also said that press reports right after the break-in that claimed that he'd called several top IRA members as he drove to Dublin to fly home to the US were rubbish: “There’s not even an ounce of truth in any of that.”
Zaitschek said that, contrary to press reports at the time, he didn’t flee the North in a panic, but had a pre-paid airplane ticket. He said he’d informed his Castlereagh employers a month beforehand that he was moving back to the US, and that “there were even nights out drinking, everyone saying goodbye to me. I was moving back to America. It’s not exactly something you do on a whim.”
He said during the two days after the break-in, he was interviewed twice by police in Belfast, “and with a handshake and almost a hug, I was told: ‘We’re done with you in our inquiries. Good luck in America. Thanks for all your great food.’ I left and came back to America. So everyone knew I was leaving. They were done with me. I left, and then this whole story was concocted.”
Zaitschek insists that the reason the PSNI have yet to officially ask US authorities to extradite him is that they have no real evidence against him that would stand up in a US court.
He said that he believes that Special Branch officers were behind several anonymous phone calls he received early-on in the saga, during which he received death threats and kidnapping threats. “Photos were also taken of me coming out of the apartment building that I lived in at the time,” he added.
Eventually, FBI agents, whom Zaitchek stresses were always respectful, began conveying what amounted to bribe offers from Special Branch. He said they included offers of “contact with Pearse in exchange for information about Castlereagh”.
“Obviously, I couldn’t tell them something I didn’t know,” said Zaitschek.
He told the FBI to make all future advances to his lawyer. They made several more offers, all of which were rebuffed, and eventually such advances stopped.
Such offers were especially heart-rending given that Zaitschek has only had two or three brief phone calls from Pearse since 2003, but nothing since.
Via his lawyers in Belfast he has secured the right to get one picture yearly of Pearse so he can at least see what he looks like.
As for the growing theory among Irish republicans that Donaldson and Special Branch set him up as a fall-guy, Zaitchek said: “Denis didn’t know I was working in (Castlereagh) unless Special Branch told him I was working in there. “But I didn’t do the break-in. So it’s very possible that members of the security services did it, and then they did set me up. But I had nothing to do with it, and I don’t know who did. I only know that I’ve been framed by it and my life has been turned upside down as a result of it.”
Zaitschek knows that there are many in Northern Ireland who have already tried and convicted him in their own minds, based on media reports regarding his involvement.
He again insisted that those reports are dead wrong, and that it is subterfuge and chicanery by the PSNI Special Branch that left him as a scapegoat.
“I have to say though, having been reading a lot recently about what’s going on, one couldn’t help but think that the entire law enforcement and security apparatus in Northern Ireland is something of a circus act,” said Zaitchek.

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