NJ pol hails return of Jew jailed in Bolivia
Sean Penn, left, with Rep. Chris Smith following the actor’s testimony before Congress about Jacob Ostreicher, who was recently freed after being held more than two years in Bolivia without charges. Photos courtesy of Rep. Chris Smith
December 26, 2013
Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4) welcomed the release of an American businessman imprisoned in a Bolivian jail for 20 months and then kept under house arrest for another year without formal charges.
Smith has been involved in the case of Jacob Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn since being contacted by Ostreicher’s daughter, Chaya Weinberger, a constituent from Lakewood.
Ostreicher arrived back in the United States last week as a result of pressure from American lawmakers and celebrities, including actor Sean Penn.
“We are overjoyed that he is free,” Smith said in a statement. “It has been a long, painful road for Jacob and his family. He needs time to restore his health and rebuild his life, and he needs time with his family. A great injustice has been done to him from which he may never fully recover.”
Smith led a bipartisan delegation to Bolivia on Ostreicher’s behalf, visiting him in Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz and meeting with Bolivian officials.
“I am thrilled my father is home,” Weinberger said in a statement e-mailed to NJJN. “I spoke to him and he sounds great.”
The flooring contractor was arrested by Bolivian police who alleged that he did business with individuals engaged in drug trafficking and money laundering. Ostreicher maintained that he was a junior partner in a legitimate $27 million rice-growing business.
Smith, whose district includes parts of Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean counties, chairs the House Subcommittee on Human Rights. Penn testified at one of the two congressional hearings on the matter held by Smith. The congressman thanked the actor for his contributions to the efforts to secure Ostreicher’s release.
In a press release Smith said Bolivian officials employed delay tactics and gave excuses for his continued detention in the absence of any evidence. He also said there was no sign of the confiscated $27 million in assets from Ostreicher's rice farming venture.
Bolivian Justice Minister Cecilia Ayllon told the Associated Press that Ostreicher flew to Los Angeles from Peru's capital, Lima.
“The office here is just bursting with happiness that he is free,” said Smith spokesman Jeff Sagnip. “His life really was in danger. Jacob was the only American and the only Jewish person in that prison. That’s why we worked so hard to get Jacob transferred to a hospital. That prison was filled with murderers and drug dealers. He could have been killed at any time.”