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May 11, 2012 4:13 pm

One Year Later: The Case of Yanky Ostreicher, Held in Bolivia Without Charge

avatar by Zachary Lichaa

Yanky Ostreicher's grandson holds up a sign in protest of his grandfather's captivity in Bolivia. Photo: Miriam Ungar.

Yanky Ostreicher , an American-Jewish citizen from New York state was arrested in Bolivia nearly one year ago and has been held by federal authorities there without being formally charged with a crime.

“He was never formally charged with anything,” his wife Miriam Ungar told The Algemeiner in an interview. “They arrested him on suspicion.”

Miriam has been fighting for her husband’s release since authorities picked him up in 2011, and despite having won his release through a judge’s decision during a court hearing, the judge overturned his decision less than a week later and Mr. Ostreicher has remained in captivity ever since.

“I can not go to prison for your client,” the judge told Ostreicher’s lawyer, according to his wife.

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“It’s not a system, it’s a farce,” she said.

In fact, since Ostreicher was never formally charged, the court appearance in which the Bolivian judge ordered his release, was actually a bail hearing in order to secure his ability to move freely inside the country.

“What he had to do was try to get out on bail and his lawyer suggested ‘since you’re going to the court anyway, you might as well provide all the evidence and beat the case,'” Ms. Ungar told The Algemeiner.

The State Department, which has complained to Bolivia about the lack of due process, has been involved in the case from the beginning, and Ostreicher’s family does believe they’re working hard to secure his release, but “they have limitations in a foreign country”, according to Ms. Ungar.

Large parcels of land that contained nearly 50 million pounds of rice, which were owned by Mr. Ostreicher, are believed to be the catalyst for his arrest.

“I believe that they [Bolivian government] got wind that this would be a successful business venture.  He had 50 million pounds of rice harvested and when they found out, I believe this made them aware to see that he’s a foreigner, so they said ‘what can we do about this?'”

750 trailer loads of rice disappeared over 3 weeks near the time Ostreicher was arrested, and although the government has issued multiple arrest warrants for suspects in the case, they claim to be unable to find the men.

Also around the time of Ostreicher’s arrest was the lifting of a Bolivian ban on rice exports, due to a shortage of the product inside the country.

“We believe the rice was sold because there was a ban on exporting for the last 3 years and on march 16th this ban was lifted, and that was 3 months after our rice disappeared,” Ms. Ungar said.

Her decision to reach out to the media stems from a lack of support and interest in the case among Senator’s Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand of New York.

“I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and this is why I’m going to the media.  My Senators are quiet”.

A drive to send the issue to President Obama’s desk is currently underway, with 25,000 signatures needed by June 2nd in order for the White House to consider taking the matter to the government of Bolivia.

Click here to view the petition.

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