SANTA CRUZ, BOLIVIA ,
Dec 6, 2012
Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) is leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to seek the release of American businessman Jacob Ostreicher, who has been held in a Bolivian prison without formal charges or bail since June 2011.
“We are here to visit Jacob, who is sick and who I passionately believe is innocent
,” said Smith, chairman of a U.S. congressional subcommittee that oversees international human rights. “Our hope is that the government will see its way to release him and allow him to come home to the United States, be with his wife and family
Smith, who is accompanied by New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (NY-12), has held two congressional hearings on the case and met with Ostreicher in June at the notorious, inmate-run Palmasola prison. After the House went into recess this week, Smith headed to the South American nation to turn up the pressure to release Ostreicher, who is frail due to his hunger strike to protest his confinement. Since his imprisonment, he has also begun treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
Under Bolivian law, a person can be held 18 months without charges, a time frame which expired this week. The government has produced no evidence Ostreicher has committed any crime in that time, and has denied him bail. Smith will press Bolivian officials to release Ostreicher.
Last week Bolivian media and the Associated Press reported
that seven people have been arrested in a corruption investigation into the case, including the legal adviser of the Ministry of Government, Fernando Rivera. Smith personally observed Rivera interfering in the June court proceedings, after which he went to the capital La Paz to appeal to various government officials to assist in freeing Ostreicher—who saw the confiscation of all the assets of the rice farming business in which he was an investor, including millions of pounds of rice.
Bolivian media recently reported
that Government Minister Carlos Romero said that he became interested in the case after he met with Smith. Romero said that he later also heard from officials at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz about the case.
In August, Smith held a hearing entitled “Seeking Freedom for American Trapped in Bolivian Prison
,” which resulted in the introduction of his bill “Jacob’s Law.” The bill would hold foreign government officials responsible for violations of human rights and fundamental due process procedures of imprisoned U.S. citizens by banning their and their families’ travel to the U.S.
Smith also held an earlier hearing on Ostriecher’s case in June
. Former FBI agent Steve Moore, known for his work in the release of American Amanda Knox in Italy, testified that there was a lack of any evidence on “even a microscopic scale” to suggest that Ostreicher had in any way participated in a crime in Bolivia, or that “even a crime had been committed.” He feared Ostreicher could be killed at the hands of dangerous prison inmates. Click here to read Moore’s opening testimony