WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jacob Ostreicher, a New York businessman held in Bolivia since 2011, has returned to the United States, a U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed.
“Mr. Ostreicher arrived in the United States Monday morning,” a spokeswoman told JTA in an email, confirming an Associated Press report that Ostreicher was in the United States for the first time in more than two years.
The spokeswoman did not provide any details of his return. “We refer you to him regarding questions concerning his travel to the United States,” she said.
The Yeshiva World News in an article based on unnamed sources had reported that Ostreicher was not released by the government of Bolivia but rather escaped from the country.
An unnamed son of Ostreicher told the New Jersey newspaper The Lakewood Scoop that his father, who was under house arrest for the past year, was kidnapped in Bolivia and after a ransom payment he was returned to the United States.
Family members told the newspaper that Ostreicher had been missing for a week before they learned he had entered the United States. As of Monday night, the family had not spoken to Ostreicher, nor did they know where he was located.
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 was accused of doing business with drug traffickers.
However, in June, Bolivian authorities arrested 15 people — including government officials — on charges of engineering his arrest in hopes of extracting cash payment.
Despite those charges, Bolivia did not release Ostreicher, a haredi Orthodox father of five, and his case drew the attention of leading lawmakers in Congress, including Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Sean Penn, the movie actor and human rights activist.
“I am thrilled by the reports that Jacob Ostreicher, my constituent, who has been illegally detained in a Bolivian prison for two years, is finally free,” Nadler told JTA in a statement. “He has suffered greatly and his family has worked tirelessly for his freedom. I am overjoyed at the idea that they will soon be together.
“Mr. Ostreicher was the victim of a horrible miscarriage of justice and endemic corruption within the Bolivian justice system.”
Bolivian government officials told the AP they didn’t know whether Ostreicher had left the country, but said he would have had a difficult time leaving.