A Bolivian appeals court refused to release New York businessman Jacob Ostreicher, who has been jailed without charges for 18 months, instead sending his case back to a lower court.
Oestreicher appeared with Sean Penn in a press conference Wednesday in which the "Tree of Life" actor called on Bolivia's president to order Oestreicher's release, the Associated Press reported.
Ostreicher, a haredi Orthodox father of five and grandfather of 11 from Brooklyn, N.Y., was arrested in June 2011 by Bolivian police after it was alleged that he did business with “people wanted in their countries because of links with drug trafficking and money laundering.” At the time, Ostreicher belonged to a group of investors who had sunk $25 million into growing rice in lush eastern Bolivia.
The two-judge appeals panel on Tuesday sent the case back to the trial judge, ordering her to take into consideration evidence favorable to Ostreicher that she originally threw out under orders from government officials, according to the Associated Press.
Last month, authorities arrested seven people, including top government officials, for attempted extortion in the case.
Ostreicher is frail due in part to a hunger strike protesting his imprisonment. Since being jailed he has begun treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
Since his arrest, Ostreicher has said that corrupt Bolivian officials wanted to keep him in jail in order to sell for their own profit the 18,000 metric tons of rice that they confiscated from him and to extort money in exchange for promises to help get him released.
In Bolivia, a person can be held up to 18 months without formal charges -- a mark Ostreicher passed last week.
"The Bolivian authorities now have both a constitutional and moral obligation to see to it that Jacob’s case is adjudicated promptly and fairly, free from dilatory, obstructive tactics. I am confident that if a transparent and timely process is followed from this moment forward, Jacob will not only be released from his unjust incarceration, but he will also be exonerated from the allegations against him," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of a U.S. congressional subcommittee that oversees international human rights, who met in Bolivia with Ostreicher last week.
Smith has held two congressional hearings on the case and also met with Ostreicher in June at the Palmasola prison.
“It is important to note that this case is not only about justice, but is also a grave humanitarian matter given Jacob’s rapidly deteriorating health. His family and friends desperately want him to come home where he can receive the medical attention he needs,” Smith said.
Penn thanked President Evo Morales for ordering the probe that led to the shakedown arrests in October, when Penn began advocating for Oestreicher's release.
Brooklyn City Councilman David Greenfield, whose district includes Oestreicher's home and family, publicly thanked Penn for his involvement.
"As our community continues to speak out and demand justice for the Ostreicher family, my thanks goes out to Sean Penn for lending a powerful and persuasive voice to the effort to clear Jacob Ostreicher’s name and bring him home to his family in Brooklyn," Greenfield said. "May God repay Mr. Penn for this kindness."
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