Dec 11, 2012
Justice continues to be denied to Jacob Ostreicher, an American entrepreneur detained without formal charges for over 18 months in Bolivia, as a hearing today concluded with yet again no decision on release or bail, said Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), a leading human rights leader in Congress, who expressed “extreme disappointment” with the outcome.
The judges have requested that the lower court judge—whose decision not to grant bail was being considered on appeal—consider evidence that would exonerate Jacob of the baseless money-laundering allegations against him and to review the original basis for the detention order.
“According to Bolivia’s own laws, Jacob should either have been presented with any evidence against him or released by Dec. 4
,” exclaimed Smith, chairman of a U.S. congressional subcommittee that oversees international human rights. “Justice delayed is justice denied. 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.
“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.
Despite today’s outcome, Smith expressed hope that the new hearing to take place within five days will give Jacob his freedom.
Actor Sean Penn, who has also supported Ostreicher, attended the hearing.
“The government officials with whom Rep. Nydia Velázquez and I met over the last week during our visit to Bolivia seem to be truly committed to correcting the injustices perpetrated against Jacob and to giving him a fair hearing in accordance with Bolivian law
,” Smith said. “It would appear that their efforts are part of a broader campaign to excise the cancer of corruption that has spread to key parties in the Bolivian justice system. The arrests of several government officials who were obstructing Jacob’s case are a sign of hope not only for Jacob, but for all the people of Bolivia who have been victimized by the extortion ring that is now being exposed. While Jacob should never have been arrested or detained in the first place–the government still has not produced any evidence that he has committed a crime–the next hearing will be an indication as to whether this hope for reform is being realized
Smith was accompanied on this second congressional delegation to Bolivia by Congresswoman Velazquez (NY-12). Smith has held two congressional hearings on the case, and also met with Ostreicher in June. Ostreicher is now especially frail, due in part to his hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. During his confinement, he has also begun treatment for Parkinson’s disease. When meeting with him last week, Smith observed that Ostreicher’s health has deteriorated significantly since June, and in particular saw a noticeable trembling of Ostreicher’s hands Smith had not observed during his previous visit.
During that visit in June, Smith met with the Bolivian Minister of Government, Carlos Romero, to detail Ostreicher’s story of injustice, including repeated court delays and complete lack of evidence against him. Romero told Smith he would investigate Jacob’s treatment. In the past week, eight people involved in the case have been arrested on charges of corruption, including the legal adviser to the Ministry of Government, Fernando Rivera. Smith personally observed Rivera interfering in the June court proceedings.
Bolivian media recently reported
that Romero stated he first became interested in the case as a result of his meeting with Smith.
In Bolivia a person can be detained for a maximum of 18 months without formal charges, a mark Ostreicher passed last week. The government has yet to produce any evidence that Ostreicher committed a crime, and has still denied him bail. Smith is fighting to get him released, even if initially only on bail.
During his ordeal, Ostreicher has additionally endured the confiscation of all the assets of the rice farming business in which he was an investor, including millions of pounds of rice.
Smith originally became involved in the case in June of this year, when the human rights subcommittee he chairs held the first congressional hearing on Ostreicher’s plight. Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks from the June 2012 hearing.
Also in June, prior to his own visit to Ostreicher in the Palmasola Prison in Bolivia, Smith formally requested that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson personally intervene on Ostreicher’s behalf. After visiting with Ostreicher at the prison, Smith met with high-ranking Bolivian officials, including Minister of Government Romero, Minister of Justice Cecilia Luisa Ayllon and Vice Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde, to discuss the case.
Minister Romero committed to Smith to personally look into the injustices and irregularities of Ostreicher’s case. The efforts came to fruition in late November, and so far eight individuals involved in Ostreicher’s persecution, including government legal staff, have been arrested.
In August of 2012, Smith held a second hearing on Ostreicher’s case entitled “Seeking Freedom for American Trapped in Bolivian Prison
.” Chairman Smith also introduced “Jacob’s Law” (H.R. 6292
), based on Smith’s prior legislation, the Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Authorization Act of 2011
(now P.L. 112-82
, signed into law in January 2012). Jacob’s Law would prohibit the travel of foreign officials and their families’ to the United States if those officials are known to be complicit in the violation of fundamental human and due process rights of Americans imprisoned in their home country. The legislation was introduced August 2, and referred to the House Committees on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs.