A chef who was once Northern Ireland’s most wanted man over his alleged role in the IRA’s Castlereagh break-in is now running a restaurant just 25 miles from the border.
Larry Zaitschek, 46, is the boss at the Boyne Brasserie on the outskirts of Drogheda, having quietly made a permanent return to Ireland last year after being cleared of any wrongdoing.
He is remarried, has a new baby on the way, and is well thought of by locals in the town.
But the man who became known by the notorious nickname ‘Larry the Chef' confessed to Sunday Life that the 2002 Castlereagh police base break-in still looms large over his life.
“It's always there in the background, every time I try and move on someone reminds me of it,” he said.
“I just want to forget about it, it's taken me 12 years to finally get it out of my life.
“I'm happy where I am now, I've got a great wife and a baby on the way.”
In 2009 the case against Zaitschek — who was accused of involvement in the raid that rocked the peace process — was dropped.
He had been sought for extradition from America on charges of aggravated burglary, assault, imprisonment of a police officer, and having information likely to be of use to terrorists.
Cops had alleged that Zaitschek, who was a chef in Castlereagh police station, helped the IRA break-in and steal sensitive files on police officers and their paramilitary informants.
Millions of pounds had to be spent rehousing officers and others whose security was compromised.
Zaitschek still maintains that the burglary was the work of rogue police officers who wanted to pin the blame on the Provos so Sinn Féin would be kicked out of government and the Assembly axed.
He said: “Of course it was the police, probably Special Branch, which was responsible for the break-in. All that stuff about the IRA's involvement was nonsense.”
After the raid Zaitschek returned to his native New York where he remained until last year.
Until the case against him was dropped in 2009 he was among the UK's most wanted men, although the PSNI made no real attempt to extradite him from the US to Northern Ireland.
Clearing Zaitschek, the Public Prosecution Service said he would not be able to get a fair trial because the PSNI could not make available all relevant |material relating to his case.
Although technically a free man since 2009, Larry the Chef explained how he dared not return to Northern Ireland until 2011.
He revealed: “I surrendered myself to the authorities in Northern Ireland in 2011.
“I was taken to a police barracks in Antrim for questioning in the presence of my solicitor. I |didn't say anything at all during the interviews.
“I just sat there and listened while they asked questions.I knew almost immediately that they
had nothing on me, that it was a farce because of the nature of the questions being asked.
“The police asked me why a man who is half Polish would travel to Northern Ireland and get a job as a chef in Castlereagh.
“What sort of question is that? I'm not even half Polish. My surname is Zaitschek, but I haven't a drop of Polish blood in me.”
Larry the Chef returned to Ireland last year and settled in the Drogheda area with his wife Denise.
The happy couple run the successful Boyne Brasserie and featured recently in the local Drogheda Leader newspaper.
In an accompanying interview Larry beamed: “If customers leave happy, I’m happy because it means I’ve done my job as best I can and they’re more likely to come back.”
Unsurprisingly he made no mention of his previous troubles and former status as a fugitive.
When Sunday Life stopped off at the Boyne Brasserie last Thursday a hard-working Zaitschek was sweating in the kitchen preparing lunches.
He seemed content, although a noticeable strain appeared on his face when asked to recount his Castlereagh memories.
Zaitschek moved to Northern Ireland in 1995 to live with his ex-wife and son Pearse — who ended up being taken into a witness protection programme.
He started working in the kitchen at Castlereagh in 1998 and was on first name terms with the many officers stationed at the east Belfast base.
The New Yorker left his job there in the days before the March 17, 2002, break-in and returned to the US.
Cops probing the burglary soon came to suspect Zaitschek's involvement, mainly because of his previous friendship with |senior Sinn Féin official Denis Donaldson, who was later murdered after being unmasked as a Special Branch agent.
Around 10pm on St Patrick's Day three men burst into room ‘2-20' at Castlereagh, overpowered an officer on duty, and stole dozens of files relating to Special Branch officers and their agents.
The PSNI blamed the IRA, which in turn blamed the security services, accusing them of trying to collapse the Stormont Assembly in which Sinn Féin held key government positions.
More than 12 years on and the truth behind the Castlereagh break-in is still not known.
Larry Zaitschek believes it will always remain a mystery.
“The public will never know what really happened,” he told Sunday Life.