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Congress holds hearing on Chasid imprisoned in Bolivia

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WASHINGTON (JTA) —  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 the Borough Park section of 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-N.J.), 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."

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 on which our country is based upon,” 

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 even 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.

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.

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