MIAMI – Colombian former Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias, who fled to the United States while on trial for corruption in his homeland and was subsequently sentenced in absentia to nearly 18 years in prison, has received a favorable ruling in extradition proceedings in U.S. federal court.
A federal judge in Miami released him on $100,000 bond and appeared to indicate he opposed his extradition to Colombia.
The judge said, however, that he would give U.S. prosecutors two more weeks to bolster their argument in favor of extraditing Arias.
In Thursday’s hearing, Arias’ defense team argued that Colombia’s Supreme Court and a U.S. appellate court have both found that the nations’ 1979 extradition treaty is invalid because it was never properly ratified.
In 2014, Arias was convicted in his homeland of steering subsidies intended for poor farmers affected by Colombia’s free-trade agreement with the United States into the hands of wealthy landowners.
He was sentenced by Colombia’s Supreme Court to 17 years and six months in prison and also ordered to pay a fine of 25 billion pesos ($7.9 million at the current exchange rate).
Colombia’s Inspector General’s Office in 2011 earlier found Arias responsible for “disciplinary failures” during his 2005-2009 tenure as agriculture minister and barred him from public office for 16 years.
Arias arrived in the United States on June 14, 2014, the same day a journalist leaked the news that the Supreme Court would deliver a guilty verdict. His wife and their two children – a seven-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy – arrived four days later.
The family then sought political asylum in the United States on the grounds of political persecution in Colombia. Arias’ wife has said her husband was persecuted for opposing President Juan Manuel Santos’ peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group.
Although the asylum request was accepted for consideration, the family had received no response in the two years prior to his arrest.
Arias’ extradition process kicked off after he was arrested in August in South Florida.