WASHINGTON (JTA) — Bolivian prosecutors say two members of an alleged extortion ring that targeted American businessman Jacob Ostreicher have pleaded guilty and are cooperating in hopes of serving less jail time.
The two lower-ranking officials are among 15 people arrested for allegedly trying to shake down Ostreicher, The Associated Press reported on Monday. One was assistant to the judicial director of the Interior Ministry.
Ostreicher, who had a flooring business in New York, invested money with a group involved in a rice-growing venture in Bolivia and was managing the business when he was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. He also is accused of doing business with drug traffickers.
No proof against Ostreicher has been provided in court.
Ostreicher’s supporters say he is the victim of a gang of extortionists, including government officials, who have held him captive in order to fleece him.
Bolivian authorities have said Ostreicher cannot leave Bolivia until his case is resolved.
Ostreicher’s top congressional champion, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), in a statement released Monday, urged the Dakar Rally organizers to reroute the off-road vehicle race away from Bolivia unless Ostreicher is released.
The race announced that the route will include Bolivia for the first time in January 2014, bringing “hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits and tourism” to the area, Smith said.