A New York businessman detained more than two years in Bolivia without charge during a money laundering investigation arrived in the United States on Monday, the US State Department said, the latest twist in a saga that led to prosecutors alleging high-level corruption in the Andean nation.
A State Department official confirmed only that Jacob Ostreicher had left Bolivia. The agency would give no details on his departure or travel to the US, the official said.
Family members had contacted The Associated Press earlier Monday saying they hadn’t heard from Ostreicher in a few days and feared he had been kidnapped. Later, a brother, Aron Ostreicher, called saying Ostreicher might be in the US. The brother then stopped answering his phone and email.
Ostreicher’s daughter, Gitty Weinberger, said Monday evening in a phone interview from her home in New Jersey that she had been informed of her father’s safe arrival in the US but the two had not yet spoken.
Bolivian government officials said they didn’t know whether Ostreicher had left the country, but were aware of the report.
Deputy Interior Minister Jorge Perez said it would have been difficult for Ostreicher to get out, given the media attention to his case. Col. Edmundo Rivero, head of police in the city of Santa Cruz, where Ostreicher was put under house arrest, said he was checking with immigration authorities on the possibility the American left.
Ostreicher spent 18 months in a Bolivian jail without charges on suspicion of money laundering while trying to salvage a rice-growing venture. He was released a year ago and put under house arrest after actor Sean Penn and several US lawmakers directly appealed to Bolivian President Evo Morales to free him.
Meanwhile late Monday, The Yeshiva World News reported based on unnamed sources that Ostreicher was not released by the Bolivian government, but rather escaped from the country.
An unnamed son of Ostreicher told the local newspaper The Lakewood Scoop that his father, who was under house arrest for the last year, had been kidnapped in Bolivia and after the ransom money was paid he was returned to the United States.
Family members told the newspaper that Ostreicher had been missing for a week before they learned he had entered the US. As of Monday night, the family had not spoken to Ostreicher, nor did they know where he was located.
Ostreicher, who had a flooring business in New York, invested money with a group involved in a rice-growing venture in Bolivia and was managing the business when he was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. He also was accused of doing business with drug traffickers.
However, in June, Bolivian authorities arrested 15 people — including government officials — on charges of engineering his arrest in hopes of extracting cash payment.
Despite those charges, Bolivia did not release Ostreicher, an ultra-Orthodox father of five, and his case drew the attention of leading lawmakers in Congress, including Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Sean Penn, the movie actor and human rights activist.
“I am thrilled by the reports that Jacob Ostreicher, my constituent, who has been illegally detained in a Bolivian prison for two years, is finally free,” Nadler told JTA in a statement.
“He has suffered greatly and his family has worked tirelessly for his freedom. I am overjoyed at the idea that they will soon be together. Mr. Ostreicher was the victim of a horrible miscarriage of justice and endemic corruption within the Bolivian justice system.”