Bolivia releases jailed American

Man held on suspicion of money laundering

LA PAZ, Bolivia - A Bolivian judge Tuesday ordered the release of an American who had been imprisoned for 18 months.

Jacob Ostreicher will be under house arrest from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., Judge Eneas Gentile said, but can move freely at other times.

Ostreicher's detention drew international attention and was linked to a corruption probe that led to the arrest last month of six Bolivian officials accused of trying to extort and steal from him.

In a statement, two U.S. lawmakers praised Ostreicher's release on bail as the "first positive development" in the case.

"But this is only the beginning of the end," said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey. "Jacob has incurred permanent damage to his health and has lost over 18 precious months of his life with his wife, children and grandchildren. In addition, his life remains at risk every day that he remains in Bolivia, due to credible death threats against him."

In an interview with CNN en Español from a hospital bed earlier this month, Ostreicher said he was wearing a bulletproof vest out of fear for his safety.

Ostreicher, a flooring contractor from Brooklyn, New York, had been held since June 2011 on suspicion of money laundering tied to a rice-growing operation.

He has denied the accusations.

Last month Bolivian authorities arrested six government officials on suspicion of trying to extort and steal from Ostreicher.

Among those arrested were a judge involved in Ostreicher's case and employees of a government group in charge of seized assets, according to the state-run ABI news agency, which cited Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero.

Since Ostreicher's arrest, authorities have seized some 20,000 tons of rice, and the illegal sale of that rice is what landed some officials in hot water, the minister reportedly said.

The judge was alleged to have been involved in a plan to extort $50,000 from Ostreicher in return for his release from jail.

The events leading to Ostreicher's arrest are complex. They start with an investment that he made in 2008 in a rice operation in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. A group of investors saw opportunity in growing rice, and though Ostreicher didn't put down a lot of money, he began traveling to Bolivia to look after the project, his supporters say.