The man, Larry Zaitschek, known by the police as “Larry the Chef,” a former cook in the top-security Castlereagh complex in East Belfast, denies any knowledge of the break-in and is currently living in the U.S. Zaitschek worked in the canteen at Castlereagh and was on first-name terms with Special Branch and MI5 officers based there.
His estranged wife, Lisa, who’s from East Belfast, is believed to be on a witness protection program and to be assisting the police with their inquiries.
A police officer was gagged and bound while documents were stolen during the raid at police Special Branch offices at Castlereagh last St. Patrick’s Day. Although the police say they are investigating “other possibilities,” they firmly believe the IRA was behind the break-in.
The IRA has denied any involvement and republicans are insisting that dark forces within one of the secret British intelligence services was involved. “It was an inside job,” one republican source said. “The different arms of British security are fighting with each other for supremacy and the raid is all to do with their rivalry and nothing to do with us.”
Last week, the DPP will receive a file on Zaitschek, who left his job in the kitchens at Castlereagh several weeks before the incident. He returned to the U.S. soon after the robbery and denies any involvement in it.
Senior police sources have repeatedly said they are confident they can connect him to the raid and to other intelligence gathering activities linked to the IRA.
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The investigating team, headed by Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Wright, has now completed its initial report into the incident. The police will set out their case and present their evidence in the file to the DPP. He will then decide if there is enough evidence to draw up extradition papers to be presented to the authorities in the U.S. According to police sources, it deals not just with the break-in at Castlereagh but all of Zaitschek’s activities since he arrived in Northern Ireland.
Senior police sources say they are confident they have enough evidence to charge him with the Special Branch robbery. A decision on whether to proceed with the extradition case will be a matter for the DPP and the attorney general once they have assessed the police evidence.
Among the documents taken in the security breach was an index book listing the names, ranks, and telephone numbers of Special Branch officers. However, the information taken did not include their addresses.
Details on other officers not attached to Special Branch were also listed in the book. Special Branch officers were briefed and told that their threat assessment following the breach was being upgraded.
Days after the breach, it emerged that the office was only moved to that room from another part of the building a week previously because the complex was being refurbished.
Special Branch deals with intelligence work, some relating to informers, and has an anti-terrorism role in Northern Ireland. It is the North’s most controversial police departments because of allegations that its officers colluded with loyalists in the murder of republicans and non-combatant Catholic civilians.
The police questioned Larry Zaitschek first in Belfast soon after the break-in. He returned to New York where he was interviewed again. None of the missing papers has been recovered since the raid and nobody has been charged with the break-in.