Bolivia says US 'elite forces' helped American businessman escape

Bolivia says US 'elite forces' helped American businessman escape

Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero said US "elite forces" had helped an American businessman, accused of money laundering, escape from house arrest.

US actor Sean Penn answers media questions after meeting with Bolivian President Evo Morales at the Quemado presidential palace in La Paz on October 30, 2012

US national Jacob "Ostreicher has left our country illegally, in an operation designed by an elite forces unit, with the knowledge and participation of US government officials," Romero told a briefing, but did not offer more details.

US press reports said Ostreicher had arrived back in the US on Monday and was in the care of Hollywood star Sean Penn, who had emailed the media to say a "humanitarian operation" had been mounted to rescue the businessman.

Ostreicher was arrested on suspicion of money laundering in June 2011 and jailed, but his case uncovered an extortion ring that led to the arrests of 12 people, including the judge who originally had him arrested.

Penn led appeals for his release and Ostreicher, who denied the charges against him, left jail but was placed under house arrest a year ago.

The US State Department denied any involvement in the escape.

"We were not involved in his departure from Bolivia," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf in Washington.

"He apparently... went through Peru, and consular officers in Peru provided consular assistance to him in making transportation arrangements to return to the US," she said explaining only that "we assisted him in making transportation arrangements."

On Tuesday Justice Minister Cecilia Ayllon had said Bolivia had learned from neighboring Peru that Ostreicher, 54, fled there and then to the United States.

Ayllon said Bolivia would seek his extradition.

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