Sean Penn on Capitol Hill: Actor-Activist Testifies in Effort to Free Jacob Ostreicher, an American Being Held in a Bolivian Prison (Video)
May 20, 2013 07:01 PM EDT
Activist and actor Sean Penn appeared on Capitol Hill on Monday, testifying before the subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights and International Organizations. Penn was introduced to the case in part by fellow actor Mark Wahlberg, regarding the case of Jacob Ostreicher, a New Yorker being held in Bolivia over an extortion case.
Ostreicher is a flooring contractor from Brooklyn. In 2008, as the construction industry collapsed in the U.S., Jacob said he heard from a family friend -- a prominent lawyer in Switzerland -- about a promising investment opportunity: growing rice in Bolivia, ABC News reported. Ostreicher said he put $200,000 into the venture and became a very junior partner in a $25 million project. The first harvest yielded nearly 40 million pounds of rice, news reports said, and more than 200 Bolivian workers were employed in the business. Ostreicher helped manage it and oft-times traveled to Bolivia.
However in 2011, Bolivian police arrested one of Ostreicher's former employees and accused him of being involved with drug criminals. Ostreicher said he cooperated fully with police, but was also arrested. He has been in a Bolivian jail for close to two years, and there has been a concerted campaign to have him released.
Ostreicher was visited in prison by Penn on October 31, 2012, and the actor has been vocal in efforts to get him released.
"Jacob Ostreicher has suffered long enough. He has been held in Bolivia without formal charges for nearly two years, including 18 months in prison," said human rights subcommittee Chairman Smith, who traveled to Bolivia twice in 2012 to assist Ostreicher."The Bolivian authorities have presented no evidence against him. It is long past time for them to adjudicate the case. Under their own law, he should be free now."