LA PAZ, Bolivia — Actor Sean Penn said Tuesday that he's with Jacob Ostreicher after the New York businessman was secretly spirited out of Bolivia, where he's been fighting for more than two years to clear his name in a money-laundering investigation.
Penn, through his publicist, said Ostreicher is safe, doing well and receiving medical attention at an undisclosed location.
In a statement sent by his publicist, Penn said a "humanitarian operation" had been mounted to extract Ostreicher "from the corrupt prosecution and imprisonment he was suffering in Bolivia." He didn't provide additional details or say who was behind it.
Ostreicher spent 18 months in a Bolivian jail without charges on suspicion of money laundering while trying to salvage a rice-growing venture. He was released a year ago and put under house arrest after Penn traveled to Bolivia and directly appealed to President Evo Morales to free him. An Orthodox Jew with a flooring business in Brooklyn, Ostreicher has claimed his innocence and complained that he was being fleeced by corrupt officials to drop the case against him.
While details of how Ostreicher fled Bolivia were sketchy, the Bolivian government reacted angrily to news of his departure, calling him a fugitive.
Justice Minister Cecilia Ayllon said she didn't know whether the U.S. government played a role in Ostreicher's escape, saying only that he duped authorities at an unspecified border crossing Sunday night before boarding an LAN Chile plane in the Peruvian capital of Lima for a flight to Los Angeles.
"His escape demonstrates that he was involved in the crimes he's accused of," Ayllon said at a news conference, adding that Bolivia is alerting Interpol and could request the American's extradition.
The State Department said Tuesday it hadn't received any inquiries from Bolivia's government, and Morales didn't mention the case in a 10-minute speech at a summit of Latin American leaders in Caracas, Venezuela.
Bolivia has an extradition treaty with the U.S., but relations between the two countries have been strained since Morales, a former coca grower, expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008. In July, Morales threatened to close the American diplomatic mission altogether after accusing the U.S. of pressuring European allies to block his return from Russia on suspicion that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was aboard his presidential plane.
In the absence of diplomatic relations, Penn has had a direct line to Morales.
In 2012 the Bolivian leader invited the Hollywood actor known for his friendship with the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to serve as a goodwill ambassador for the land-locked Andean nation and its international campaign to regain an outlet to the sea and decriminalize the coca leaf.
Penn told The Associated Press a year ago when Ostreicher was freed from prison but barred from leaving the country that he would not give up on Ostreicher. Five months later, and frustrated with the lack of progress in the case, he proposed during testimony to a U.S. congressional hearing that Bolivia be cut from the Dakar motor sport rally unless it freed Ostreicher. The comments angered members of Morales' Cabinet.