Bolivian Official Apologizes For Extorting Ostreicher

BROOKLYN -

A former top Bolivian government official jailed for extorting Brooklyn investor Jacob Ostreicher used a courtroom appearance to apologize for his action, adding that he was just following orders from his higher-ups.

Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jew who was incarcerated for more than a year without charges prior to his release on bail in November, refused to accept the expression of regret by Fernando Rivera, who prosecuted his case as chief of legal affairs at Bolivia’s interior ministry.

“To me this apology was an insult,” Ostreicher said. “He didn’t apologize, he was saying that that if he did something wrong — and he didn’t say that he did something wrong; he didn’t admit to it. So this is all a show.”

Rivera was arrested in late 2012 together with a dozen other attorneys, government officials and judges and charged with extorting Ostreicher, who had overseen a multimillion-dollar investment in rice production in Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest countries.

After Ostreicher’s arrest in 2011 on an accusation of money laundering, thousands of tons of rice were confiscated and sold. Ostreicher has yet to be charged, although an international pressure campaign earned his release on bail late last year. He is still barred from leaving the country until the saga concludes.

The case began to unravel in November, when the majority of officials involved in Ostreicher’s case, Rivera among them, were arrested for extortion. The case then dropped off the radar until Wednesday, when at a routine probationary hearing Rivera turned to Ostreicher and asked his forgiveness.

“I want to express to Mr. Ostreicher publicly with great nobility and courage,” Rivera said, “and ask Mr. Ostreicher to accept my apology, if he was at any time somewhat aggrieved or affected by my actions. But I want to clarify to Mr. Ostreicher, that due to my job I had to follow orders from above. I do this with great respect, with a lot of humility, your honor.”

Pressed by prosecutors, Rivera declined to elaborate on who issued the orders from “above.”

In a posting on a webpage devoted to the case, Ostreicher’s supporters said that it was inconceivable for him to have accepted an apology from the man he saw many times strong-arming the judiciary into keeping Ostreicher in prison.

“Jacob Ostreicher and his family watched and listened as Rivera ranted during each hearing,” the site, freejacob.com, wrote. “Congressman Chris Smith was in the court room when Rivera threatened to file charges against the judge. The family also watched Rivera drag the judge into a side room before entering the court room. When the judge tried to shrug off Rivera’s hand, he grabbed his shirt sleeve and forced the judge into another room. That judge subsequently resigned from the case as did others before and after him.”

“How can Jacob accept Rivera’s apology?” they demanded. “The damage this man has done is indescribable, most of which is irreversible.”

In other news, Denis Racicot, the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights in Bolivia, said Wednesday that the agency is following up on the corruption revealed by the Ostreicher case.