U.S. Markets open in 8 hrs 38 mins

Sean Penn in direct appeal to Bolivia's leader

Members of the press surround U.S. businessman Jacob Ostreicher as he arrives in a hospital bed wearing a flak jacket to his court hearing in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. A Bolivian appeals panel has refused to immediately release Ostreicher, despite evidence he was fleeced and extorted by prosecutors who have had him jailed for 18 months without charges on suspicion of money laundering. Ostreicher has been hospitalized for more than two weeks in a private clinic after being diagnosed with Parkinsons. (AP Photo)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Sean Penn has made a direct public appeal to Bolivia's president to order the immediate release of a New York businessman who has been jailed for 18 months without charge and who helped uncover a shakedown ring led by prosecutors.

Penn made the appeal at a news conference with Jacob Ostreicher on Wednesday, a day after an appeals panel sent the man's case back to a lower court. The actor interceded on Ostreicher's behalf in late October, and a government probe subsequently yielded eight arrests, with more expected.

Penn thanked President Evo Morales for ordering the investigation. He called the shakedown ring "a cancer attacking at Bolivia's heart" and creating an "existential crisis" for Morales.

Penn said that he would complain to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if necessary.