US businessman Jacob Ostreicher escapes Bolivia

Jacob Ostreicher (right) is accompanied by US actor Sean Penn during a press conference in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on 12 December 2013 Jacob Ostreicher (right) has been supported by US actor Sean Penn

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An American businessman detained in Bolivia without charge for more than two years has escaped back to the US, officials in both countries say.

Jacob Ostreicher had faced allegations of money laundering linked to a rice-growing business.

Mr Ostreicher, 55, said Bolivian officials had attempted to extort money from him in exchange for his freedom.

Bolivian authorities say 15 people have been arrested in connection with the alleged extortion ring.

An unnamed US state department official told media that Mr Ostreicher had left Bolivia.

A member of his family said he had returned to New York, where he has a flooring business.

'Shake-down'

Bolivian Justice Minister Cecilia Ayllon told a news conference on Tuesday that Mr Ostreicher had fled to Peru and caught a commercial flight to US, reports AFP news agency.

Mr Ostreicher is said to have spent 18 months in a Bolivian jail and a year under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering in connection with a rice-growing business.

He accused government employees in the South American country of illegally selling 18,000 tons of rice and stealing the business's equipment, worth more than $50m (£30m).

He also alleged Bolivian officials demanded $50,000 to free him from jail.

Mr Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jew, was transported from jail to house arrest one year ago after actor Sean Penn and several US lawmakers appealed to Bolivian President Evo Morales on his behalf.

Mr Penn had reportedly been contacted by an organisation that aids Jewish prisoners.

Bolivian authorities, including a judge, prosecutors and lower-level officials, were later implicated in the alleged shake-down scheme, according to media reports.

Several officials in Bolivia said they did not know Mr Ostreicher's whereabouts.

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