Bolivian officials arrested for trying to extort jailed N.Y. businessman

(JTA) — Bolivian government officials were arrested for allegedly trying to extort a New York businessman who has been jailed in Bolivia for the last 18 months.

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Jacob Ostreicher, a haredi Orthodox father of five and grandfather of 11 from Brooklyn, N.Y., has been held in Bolivia without formal charges and bail. He was arrested in June 2011 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.” At the time, Ostreicher belonged to a group of investors that sunk $25 million into growing rice in lush eastern Bolivia.

Ostreicher has said since his arrest that corrupt Bolivian officials desired to keep him in jail in order to sell for their own profit the 18,000 metric tons of rice they confiscated from him and to extort him for money in exchange for promises to help get him released, The Associated Press reported.

The director of legal affairs in the Interior Ministry, Fernando Rivera was among those arrested Tuesday, and has been named by Ostreicher as the head of the extortion operation. Ostreicher said that Rivera demanded a $50,000 bribe in order to secure his release from prison, according to the AP.

Other officials arrested include a former top official in the presidential ministry, a judge who initially ordered Ostreicher freed last year only to reverse himself and three officials of DIRCABI, the state agency that manages seized assets, the AP reported.

Ostreicher is currently in a prison medical clinic after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and suffering from malnutrition from a liquid-only hunger strike he mounted several months ago.

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