WASHINGTON – A 53-year-old U.S. citizen jailed in Bolivia for 11 months without formal charges has been on hunger strike since mid-April to draw attention to his case, U.S. media reported.
Jacob Ostreicher, a flooring contractor from Brooklyn, New York, started a rice business with several partners in 2008 in Bolivia, employing 200 Bolivians, Fox reported.
One of the businessman’s employees was arrested last year on drug charges and Ostreicher was detained a short time later.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the $25 million invested in the start-up of the business, to which Ostreicher only contributed $200,000, came from drug trafficking, Bolivian officials said.
Ostreicher said in an interview broadcast by ABC’s “Nightline” last week that he was not involved in any illegal activities and provided officials with hundreds of documents showing that the funds came from legitimate sources.
“It’s an absolute nightmare,” Ostreicher told ABC. “I feel all alone most of the time. I’m begging the American people to try to help me.”
The U.S. businessman was released on bail by a judge, who ordered his arrest once again six days later.
Ostreicher remains in jail even though prosecutors have not filed any charges against him.
Under Bolivian law, prosecutors can hold someone in prison for up to 18 months on preliminary charges, ABC said.
Ostreicher started a hunger strike in the middle of last month to draw attention to his plight, granting the interview to ABC last month.
Bolivian officials have refused to discuss Ostreicher’s case publicly, ABC said.
Ostreicher’s supporters sent a petition to the White House on May 3 via the “We the People” Web site, asking the U.S. government to help win the businessman’s release.