16 January 2006

DUP seeks answers on extradition delay

Daily Ireland

Peter Robinson says British must explain lack of movement over Stormont chef


The British government was yesterday challenged to explain a three-and-a-half-year delay in seeking the extradition of a man caught up in the 2002 Stormontgate alleged spying scandal.
Democratic Unionist Party MP Peter Robinson pledged to confront attorney general Lord Goldsmith about Larry Zaitschek, a former chef at Special Branch headquarters in Belfast.
A police file recommending that the US citizen be taken back to the North was sent to the prosecution services within six months but no decision has yet been taken.
Legal sources close to the authorities studying the papers have said it will be months, rather than weeks, before there is any movement.
Mr Robinson said he was astonished at the apparent torpor over a case in which the code names of scores of Special Branch detectives and details on their informers were allegedly seized in March 2002 by the IRA, as well as the case’s direct link to the collapse of the power-sharing executive.
The British government has come under pressure to reveal why espionage charges were dropped against Denis Donaldson, the Sinn Féin official turned British agent.
The DUP deputy leader said the protection of informers could be at issue.
“The police obviously thought they had sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution and passed it to the prosecution service. It's unconscionable that they should be sitting on such an important case for such a long period of time without offering the least explanation for this feet dragging.
“It's either wrapped up with consideration of extradition issues or it's wrapped up in some of the evidence from sources they did not want to identify.
“I will be putting questions to ask if the attorney general has been consulted on this.”
Mr Zaitschek, now 38, was publicly identified as a suspect in the St Patrick's Day break-in at the Castlereagh security base.
He has emphatically denied any involvement in the raid, stressing that he fully co-operated with the police investigation before returning to New York.
The chef was in the gym at Castlereagh on the night of the raid.
He is an acquaintance of Mr Donaldson, unmasked last month as a paid police and MI5 mole. Mr Zaitschek has denied any substantial association with Mr Donaldson.
Mr Donaldson was one of three men accused of intelligence gathering following a police surveillance operation codenamed Torsion, launched after the Castlereagh security breach.
The three were arrested and charged by detectives who carried out high-profile searches at the Sinn Féin offices at Stormont.
The raid provoked uproar and brought down the devolved administration in Belfast, with unionists refusing to sit in a coalition cabinet alongside republicans.
The case against Mr Donaldson and his co-accused was dropped when the authorities announced in December that prosecution would not be in the public interest.
Within days, Mr Donaldson had confessed to a 20-year career as an informer.
His links to Mr Zaitschek remain under scrutiny. With the political storm over Stormontgate showing no sign of relenting, the prosecution service faces pressure to make a decision.
Kevin Winters, the New Yorker's solicitor, has written to the Public Prosecution Service demanding to know whether it was still seeking Mr Zaitschek’s extradition.
Mr Winters also expressed concern over his client's legal fight to gain access to his son Pearse, whom he has not seen for nearly four years.
The lawyer said his client would face arrest if he were to return to the North of Ireland.
“At its most charitable, the child is being used as a pawn in a wider political process. In terms of getting a response about what's happening, this case is unusual,” Mr Winters said.
A senior Public Prosecution Service lawyer is still assessing the file on Mr Zaitschek before making a decision if the New Yorker should be prosecuted and his extradition sought.
Sir Alasdair Fraser, the director of public prosecutions in the North, would also have to agree.
A Public Prosecution Service spokesman yesterday declined to comment on the case.

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