2 Plead Guilty in Bolivia For Extorting Ostreicher

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP/Hamodia) -

Two Bolivians charged with running an extortion ring that targeted Brooklyn businessman Jacob Ostreicher pleaded guilty and are cooperating in hopes of serving less jail time.

The two are lower-ranking officials among 15 people arrested for allegedly trying to shake down Ostreicher. One was assistant to the judicial director of the Interior Ministry.

Ostreicher was arrested on suspicion of money laundering in 2011 while trying to salvage a rice-growing venture and jailed for 18 months without charge until actor Sean Penn intervened and won him house arrest.

Ostreicher says officials conspired to keep him jailed so they could sell 18,000 metric tons of rice confiscated from him and extort him.

Ostreicher cannot leave Bolivia until his case is resolved. But on Monday Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) called on sponsors of the global vehicle racing group, the Dakar Rally, to announce that they would bypass Bolivia in next year’s competition if Ostreicher is not released.

“Both for the sake of justice and in the interest of ensuring the security of the Dakar Rally participants and spectators, we are respectfully asking the rally organizers to request that Bolivian officials immediately release Jacob Ostreicher,” Smith said.

In testimony to Congress last month, Penn called on the legislators to ask that the Dakar Rally boycott Bolivia.

Among the sponsors are the oil company Total, Red Bull, Honda Motor Co., Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Michelin (tires), Edox Swiss watches, Karcher, Aggreko, Mutual de Seguridad, and Maindru Photo.

The event, organized by the Amaury Sport Organisation, is a car and motorbike race from Paris to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Due to terrorism fears, in 2009 it was moved to South America. The Dakar Rally garners not only prestige for the host countries, but also hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits and tourism promotion to the billion viewers who watch the event as it is broadcast around the world.

The Dakar Rally has announced that the route will include Bolivia, for motorbikes only, for the first time in January 2014.