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On Monday, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, participated in a Congressional hearing which examined the issue of Jacob Ostreicher’s illegal detention. Mr. Ostreicher, a constituent of Rep. Nadler’s from Brooklyn, has been detained in Bolivia for nearly two years. Rep. Nadler has previously written letters calling for U.S. intervention in the case and demanding that Bolivian authorities grant basic rights under their own laws to Mr. Ostreicher. The hearing was held by the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.
Below is Rep. Nadler’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you and Ranking Member Bass for holding this hearing, and for giving me the opportunity to participate. I also would like to thank Sean Penn for his advocacy on behalf of Mr. Ostreicher, which has helped bring international attention to his case.
“I am here today because my constituent, Jacob Ostreicher remains in unlawful dentition in Bolivia. Along with Mr. Ostreicher’s family, friends, and his community in Brooklyn, I am very concerned about his continued confinement and his welfare.
“As you know, in June 2011, Mr. Ostreicher was arrested in Bolivia on allegations of money laundering and associating with criminal organizations. He was held in the notoriously dangerous Palmasola prison for 18 months, and, though he was released from prison on bail in December 2012, he remains under house arrest. Now, nearly two years after he was originally detained, formal charges have yet to be filed against him, and Mr. Ostreicher continues to maintain his innocence. In addition, more than a dozen Bolivian officials—including prosecutors, judges, and the chief legal counsel in the Bolivian Interior Ministry—have since been arrested in connection with corruption in his case.
“This amounts to nothing less than a horrible injustice for Mr. Ostreicher who is in poor health, and has been forced to stay in Bolivia, separated from his wife, five children and eleven grandchildren. This is a man whose life has been unfairly put on hold, while justice is denied to him day after day.
“The Bolivian authorities must be made immediately aware that this miscarriage of justice is unacceptable, and conveys a negative message about their country to the United States and to the world. In fact, earlier this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report specifically citing Mr. Ostreicher’s case as evidence of endemic corruption within the Bolivian justice system, indicating that Mr. Ostreicher’s treatment constitutes a serious human rights issue.
“Specifically, in reference to Mr. Ostreicher’s case, the report notes: “The existence of an extortion ring within the judiciary constitutes a serious threat to the credibility of the administration of justice.” The Bolivian government must take immediate action to grant Jacob Ostreicher the due process he deserves, and show to the world that this sort of injustice will not stand.
“Since he was first imprisoned, I have been in frequent contact with the State Department about the status of Mr. Ostreicher’s case and his condition. I want to thank the State Department for its work thus far in communicating with the Bolivian government regarding Mr. Ostreicher’s situation and to express his frustration and that of our entire government regarding his treatment. That work must continue until we see positive results.
“In December of last year, after meeting Mr. Ostreicher’s wife, Miriam, I wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for help communicating to the Bolivian government the necessity of giving Mr. Ostreicher reasonable access to a swift trial. I also have written a letter, along with my colleagues in the House and Senate, to the Bolivian government, making the same request.
“I understand that Bolivian law has its own standards that allow a prisoner to be held for 18 months on preliminary charges in the pre-trial phase, if there is a reasonable basis to believe that he or she committed a crime. While I am glad that a Bolivian judge allowed Mr. Ostreicher to be detained at home rather than in prison, holding someone for nearly two years without a trial violates basic standards of fairness and human rights.
“Mr. Ostreicher is entitled to a fair trial, to see the evidence against him, to have the opportunity to present evidence in his own behalf, and to have that case heard promptly, and impartially. If prosecutors do not have the necessary evidence, they should dismiss the case immediately. Our job will not be done until Mr. Ostreicher has been accorded a full measure of the simple justice to which we are all entitled.
“We need everyone – Members of Congress, officials in the Executive Branch, and other interested parties – to keep up the pressure on the Bolivian government. It is important for everyone to remember our goal – making sure that Mr. Ostreicher is provided fair treatment and basic due process. The Bolivians 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 – either by finally giving him the trial he deserves, or by dropping the charges.
“I hope this hearing will serve to do just that – to keep the pressure on the Bolivian government and to demonstrate how important Mr. Ostreicher and his situation are to important U.S. government officials and to the United States government.”
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