US businessman gets out of Bolivian jail

AP News
Posted: Sep 23, 2011 8:55 PM
US businessman gets out of Bolivian jail

A judge ordered the release on bond Friday of a New York businessmen held in a Bolivian prison without charge for three months in a money laundering investigation.

Jacob Ostreicher maintains he is the victim of judicial abuse and his unusually lengthy detention prompted U.S. officials to intercede on his behalf with senior Bolivian officials. A local human rights groups backed him, accusing prosecutors of suspicious behavior.

Ostreicher, a 52-year-old orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, says he went to Bolivia to salvage a rice-growing investment after the local manager defrauded investors and planted some of their rice on land owned by the brother of a Brazilian drug trafficker.

The local manager, now jailed, turned out to be a Colombian con artist who was involved amorously with the trafficker, Ostreicher said. The trafficker is now imprisoned in Brazil for murder and other crimes.

Judge Zenon Rodriguez ordered Ostreicher to pay $14,500 bond Friday, but prohibited him from leaving Bolivia until the investigation ends, said his lawyer, Abel Montano.

Ostreicher's stepson, Zishe Glauber, said he expected his stepfather to be released from Palmasola prison in the coming week.

The judge, in the eastern lowlands city of Santa Cruz, issued a gag order for Ostreicher and his wife, Miriam Ungar, at the request of prosecutors.

In a series of interviews prior to Friday's hearings, both complained to The Associated Press that it seemed to them that unscrupulous Bolivian officials were trying to send them home penniless.

They said they feared authorities would sell and try to pocket the proceeds of several millions of dollars of rice that has been seized from Ostreicher's company. The local chapter of the respected, independent Permanent Committee for Human Rights backed the couple.

Prosecutors allege that the $25 million put into the rice venture by investors, led by Andre Zolty of Switzerland, was obtained illegally.

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Ostreicher says he cooperated fully from the start with prosecutors, who seized all his documents and computers but never requested any proof of the money's legitimacy.

Roberto Acha, the prosecutor in the case, said Friday he would not comment on the judge's decision.

At a June 4 hearing, a day after Ostreicher's arrest, prosecutors alleged that Zolty was being investigated by Swiss authorities for money-laundering, according to a transcript obtained by the AP.

That claim was later disputed by Swiss federal police, who confirmed to the AP that they issued a document at Zolty's request saying that neither he nor his firm are under police investigation.

Ostreicher runs a New York flooring business, and New York police say he has no known criminal record.


Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.