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Jailing of US Citizen Uncovers 'Corruption Network' in Bolivia

  • Written by Hannah Stone and Elyssa Pachico
  • Friday, 04 January 2013
Jacob Ostreicher talks to the press in Bolivia Jacob Ostreicher talks to the press in Bolivia

Two additional judicial officials have been accused of involvement in what looks like a wide-reaching network of corruption in Bolivia’s justice system, involving a plot to extort a US businessman.

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A judge and a court official have been accused of participating in a scheme to extort Jacob Ostreicher, an entrepreneur from New York doing business in Bolivia, as Bolivian newspaper La Razon reports. At least 12 officials linked to the case have been arrested so far, including prosecutors, judges, and an employee of the Interior Ministry, pointing to a high level of official corruption. 

Ostreicher was arrested and imprisoned in 2011 after his business was accused of purchasing land from a Brazilian drug dealer, although he was never formally charged with a crime. He has claimed that members of the prosecution attempted to extort money in exchange for his freedom, and that he was kept in prison so that they could continue extracting bribes from him. His case came to some attention in the international media after actor Sean Penn visited him in prison in October 2012. Shortly after the visit Ostreicher was freed and place under house arrest. 

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The case has shone a spotlight on institutionalized corruption within Bolivia’s judicial system. President Evo Morales' government has made several attempts to bring about badly needed reform, including one controversial measure that allowed the popular election of the Supreme Court judges in 2011. But the judiciary remains underfunded and inefficient. 

The fact that Ostreicher is a US citizen likely gave him some leverage in attracting attention to his case. But his experience is far from unusual: some two-thirds of Bolivia's prison population is still awaiting trial.

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