Thursday, April 5, 2012
Jacob Ostreicher Orthodox Jewish Man Sits 10 Months In Jail, Uncharged
SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia—Jacob Ostreicher, a New York businessman, has been confined for 10 months in one of Bolivia's most unruly prisons without being charged. He has shed more than 30 pounds, helpless to do anything as, he alleges, the multimillion-dollar rice farming venture he managed has been plundered.
At more than two dozen hearings, prosecutors have presented no evidence to back their allegations that the 53-year-old American may have been laundering drug money.
And this week, the presiding judge quit the case, likely meaning more weeks of delay.
"This is the scam of the century," Ostreicher said by telephone afterward. "I feel Iike I've been hijacked and kidnapped by people who are hiding behind the law.
The prosecutor would not discuss Ostreicher's complaints with The Associated Press. Nor would senior Bolivian officials, though U.S. diplomats have appealed to them to try to extract Ostreicher from the legal labyrinth.
The troubles began when Ostreicher and a group of Swiss partners decided to invest $25 million to grow rice in Bolivia's eastern lowlands four years ago.
Andre Zolty, one of the Swiss investors, said the idea came from a Colombian lawyer, Claudia Liliana Rodriguez, who had done some work for him in Geneva while a student.
"I made a big mistake to trust that woman," Zolty said.
Some of the land that Rodriguez bought for the venture turned out to belong to the brother of a drug trafficker who had escaped from a Brazilian prison and who, the investors say, became romantically and financially entwined with her.
When the investors suspected they were being defrauded, they dispatched Ostreicher to investigate. He wound up firing and suing Rodriguez.
The drug trafficker, Maximiliano Dorado, was deported in early 2011 to Brazil, where he is back in prison. Rodriguez was subsequently jailed in Bolivia, accused of money laundering.
The 32-year-old woman would not agree to an interview, though her lawyer, Oswaldo Flores, said her relationship with Dorado was strictly commercial and she did not know he was a drug trafficker when she bought the property.
Dorado's connection to the rice venture, led authorities to Ostreicher.
During the June 4 hearing at which he was ordered jailed, prosecutor Jeanette Velarde said the American had made investments with "capital of dubious origin."
But as the months have stretched out, officials have never produced enough evidence to warrant formal charges—and have ignored information to the contrary, the investors say.
According to a court transcript, Velarde said Zolty was under "investigation in Switzerland and other countries for the alleged laundering of money from illicit drug sales."