South Florida

U.S. extradites former Colombian minister of agriculture, ending lengthy legal battle

Former Colombian agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias Leiva sits in court to face a preliminary hearing on corruption charges in Bogotá on July 26, 2011. He fled to South Florida before a guilty verdict was rendered.
Former Colombian agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias Leiva sits in court to face a preliminary hearing on corruption charges in Bogotá on July 26, 2011. He fled to South Florida before a guilty verdict was rendered. AP

The United States on Friday extradited a former Colombian agriculture minister who was living in South Florida. He was already sentenced in Colombia on corruption charges, including embezzlement, but has not served a day.

The U.S. Marshals Service delivered Andres Felipe Arias Leiva to Colombian authorities to begin his 17-year sentence, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday afternoon. He was Colombia’s agriculture minister from 2005 to 2009.

The announcement comes just days after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected Aria’s appeal against extradition on July 8.

“Andres Arias’ extradition is a testament to the United States’ commitment to our extradition treaty obligations and the strength of our law enforcement partnership with Colombia,” said Brian A. Benczkowski, assistant attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. “I thank the team from the Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida for their tireless, years-long efforts to ensure that Arias serves his prison sentence in Colombia.”

Arias fled to the U.S. in 2014 following his conviction in the Supreme Court of Colombia for embezzlement and breaching contract during his time in public office. Arias was convicted for embezzling millions from the Colombian government’s “Argo Ingreso Seguro” program, which he implemented during his term as minister. The subsidy program was created to help poor farmers, but instead, he steered money to wealthy landowners.

Once in Florida, Arias hired an immigration attorney and applied for asylum. He argued that the corruption charges were politically motivated and that he had not received a fair trial.

By the time Colombia requested his extradition in November 2014, he had opened a small consulting company and rented a house in Weston with his wife and children.

Two years later, he was arrested at his Weston home on the day of Colombia’s historic peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla group and was later released on bond. It was then that a long legal battle began.

Arias contested the extradition request in both the Southern District of Florida and the U.S. Court of Appeals.

When a federal judge ruled Arias could be extradited in September 2017, he filed a legal disagreement, which the district court rejected in October 2018.

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