A retired FBI official told a House subcommittee that the imprisonment of a New York Chasidic Jew in Bolivia is “state-sponsored kidnapping.”
Along with the ex-official, Steve Moore, the U.S. House of Representatives Human Rights Subcommittee on Wednesday heard testimony from the family of Jacob Ostreicher, who was arrested a year ago 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.” Ostreicher, a father of five from Borough Park, Brooklyn, belonged to a group of investors that sunk $25 million into growing rice in lush eastern Bolivia.
The hearing was chaired by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), who said in his opening statement that the U.S. government “must do everything we can to correct the ongoing, extreme injustice being perpetrated against Mr. Ostreicher and secure his freedom as quickly as possible.”
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who has written letters calling for U.S. intervention in the Ostreicher case, said:
“It is important for everyone to remember our goal – making sure Mr. Ostreicher is provided fair treatment and basic due process. They must be made to understand that we will not stand by and simply accept the treatment that Mr. Ostreicher has received to date. Pressure must continue to be applied to the Bolivian government and its justice system to get this man and his family out of the terrible limbo they are in by ordering his speedy trial, and a fair opportunity to be free on bail during this process.”
In May, Rep. Nadler sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter stating: “I understand and respect the fact that Bolivia is a sovereign nation with its own legal policies and procedures, but I respectfully request that you directly contact your counterparts in the Bolivian government, and impress upon them the need for the court to hear Mr. Ostreicher’s case so that a fair result can be attained.”
Last week, Smith made a formal request to the U.S. assistant secretary of state of Western Hemisphere affairs, Roberta Jacobson, to personally intervene in the Ostreicher case.
Nadler noted on Wednesday that “a hearing regarding Mr. Ostreicher’s eligibility for bail is currently scheduled for June 11.” He reiterated that he wanted “to make sure the Bolivian government is aware that our government at a high level is calling for due process of law and a swift and fair trial for Mr. Ostreicher.”
Nadler added that “right now, Mr. Ostreicher is on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. As a result he is physically weak and his family is concerned about his health. His health and safety must continue to be monitored.”
Committee members heard from Ostreicher’s wife, Miriam Ungar, and his daughter, Chaya Weinberger. Both pleaded for Ostreicher’s release by the Bolivian government.
“He, together with all those who love him and want him home, are waiting,” Weinberger said during her testimony. “We are waiting to see the demonstration of liberty upon which our country is based.”
Moore said that “In Jacob’s case there is a complete absence of any concrete, tangible evidence on even a microscopic scale which would indicate that he had in any way, shape, or form participated in a crime in Bolivia. Nor is there evidence that a crime has even been committed.”
A number of U.S. lawmakers have joined Ostreicher’s family in saying that the U.S. State Department has not provided an adequate response to Ostreicher’s incarceration.
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) told the committee, “It has now been 370 days since Jacob was originally arrested. Yet, he has not been charged. The prosecution has not even presented any evidence of his guilt. While, initially, Jacob was to be released on bail, that decision was revoked. The judges in the case have been removed and currently no judge is presiding.”
“Meanwhile, Jacob remains locked up at Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz, Bolivia,” Velázquez pointed out. “That notorious facility was designed to hold 1,000 prisoners, but is currently home to 3,500 people. Unlike U.S. facilities, this prison is essentially run by the prisoners. Guards provide food and make sure prisoners do not escape but do nothing to maintain order within the prison’s walls. Reports suggest that gangs control life inside the prison. At least once a month there is a ‘suicide’ reported – and critics suggest many of these deaths may actually be murders. Jacob has undertaken a hunger strike to protest his unjust treatment and there are now very real health concerns about his continued detention.”