Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ decision to name Andres Felipe Arias as Colombia’s new ambassador to Rome has stirred controversy in the Andean nation,as the former agricultural minister is currently under investigation for corruption.
Colombian House of Representatives President Carlos Alberto Zuluaga urged Arias not to accept the post in Italy until the investigation into his involvement in the AIS agricultural subsidies scheme, which was caught up in a corruption scandal, is resolved.
“I know Andres Felipe will resolve the situation with the investigations into the AIS, and to assume the position in the middle of questioning will jeopardize his political future,” Zuluaga said.
Zuluaga said that for Arias’ family, for his party, and for his peace of mind, the Conservative politician should clear his name of allegations that in his time as agricultural minister he assigned agricultural subsidies, intended for poor farmers, to wealthy families, beauty queens and paramilitaries.
However Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez said that the current investigation into Arias’ conduct does not disqualify him from taking up the ambassadorship in Italy.
According to Ordoñez, the investigations should not interfere with Arias’ ability to do his new job.
Arias was appointed to Rome after the previous ambassador Sabas Pretelt de la Vega resigned in order to stand trial on corruption charges.
Arias’ successor as agricultural minister, Andres Fernandez, admitted that a number of the AIS subsidy’s recipients were financial supporters of a referendum to allow then-President Alvaro Uribe to run for re-election in 2010. This referendum was ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that it broke financial and congressional regulations.
After the failure of the referendum, Arias was accused of receiving money from subsidy beneficiaries to finance his own presidential campaign.
Arias was called for questioning by the Prosecutor General’s Office on Tuesday to defend himself against the corruption charges.