Jacob Ostreicher, Jewish Businessman Imprisoned in Bolivia, Returns to US

December 16, 2013 Updated: December 16, 2013

Jacob Ostreicher, a Jewish entrepreneur that was imprisoned and then kidnapped in Bolivia, is safe and has returned to the United States.

Ostreicher was kidnapped and a ransom was demanded, a family member told the Lakewood Scoop blog.

The ransom money was paid (an unspecified amount), and Ostreicher has been dropped off in the U.S.

“I have still not spoken to him, but we know he’s safe – and we’re still trying to figure out where he is,” the family member added.

The State Department confirmed that Ostreicher had left Bolivia.

Ostreicher had been in Bolivia since June 2011.

News Photo: businessman Jacob Ostreicher is accompanied by US actor…

US businessman Jacob Ostreicher (R) is accompanied by US actor and film director Sean Penn during a press conference after knowing that Osreicher’s request to be released was denied on the eve of December 12, 2012, in Santa Cruz, eastern Bolivia. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

He was detained without charges for 18 months before getting a hearing in a Santa Cruz court on suspicion of money laundering. He was managing a rice growing venture he had invested in, reported the Jewish blog Algemeiner.

The charges were thought to be trumped up.

His wife told the blog in a previous interview that the arrest may have been prompted by her husband’s success.

“I believe that they [Bolivian government] got wind that this would be a successful business venture. He had 50 million pounds of rice harvested and when they found out… they said ‘what can we do about this?,’” Miriam Ungar said.

Bolivian Deputy Interior Minister Jorge Perez said it would’ve been difficult for Ostreicher to leave the country, given the media attention to his case. Col. Edmundo Rivero, head of police in the city of Santa Cruz, where Ostreicher had been under house arrest, said he was checking with immigration authorities to determine whether the American left the country.

Ostreicher spent 18 months in a Bolivian jail without charges on suspicion of money laundering while trying to salvage a rice-growing venture. He was released a year ago and put under house arrest after actor Sean Penn and several U.S. lawmakers directly appealed to President Evo Morales to free him.

His case has resulted in Bolivian authorities implicating a judge and the initial prosecutors in an alleged scheme to shake down Ostreicher and other people deemed to have deep pockets.

Ostreicher charged that prosecutors and other government employees had illegally sold 18,000 metric tons of the venture’s rice and stole equipment as well as demanded a $50,000 payoff to get him out of jail.

“They robbed me of close to $50 million worth of assets,” Ostreicher told the AP in an interview a year ago. He said that in addition to the rice, about 900 cattle disappeared along with 37 tractors and harvesting equipment.

Ostreicher’s nephew Moshe confirmed in an email to friends and supporters on Monday that Ostreicher had been released. 

“With happiness, we are informing the community of Israel that our dear uncle… has already left the iron curtain in Bolivia, and is now, with God’s great mercy, here in America,” Moshe wrote.

“With thanks to G-d, I am *thrilled* that Jacob Ostreicher is finally home in America!,” tweeted Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

New York City Councilman David Greenfield added: “American Jews are celebrating the news that Jacob Ostreicher, who was falsely imprisoned since June 2011 in Bolivia, is now back home in NY.”

The kidnapping story may have been a cover story for the escape, according to another Jewish blog, JPUpdates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber