Former Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias was told Tuesday he would be incarcerated for the length of his trial, as a Colombian judge found him “preliminarily guilty” of embezzling millions of dollars in agricultural subsidies.
Arias is accused of embezzling $25 million through the Agro Ingreso Seguro (AIS), a government program charged with providing subsidies to struggling farmers.
Judge Orlando Fierro who issued the verdict said that he believed Arias had control over the AIS subsidies through a contract that did not allow a public bidding process and did not comply with the law. He also commented that Arias could very well be guilty of the crimes of which he is accused.
Fierro largely dismissed the arguments of the defense to establish Arias’ innocence and indicated that the defense had only demonstrated the benefits of the AIS program, which were not relevant.
The judge also said that Arias may have obstructed justice, noting that Arias abused his position by learning the charges against him before they were available, and that he had exercised improper influence over potential witnesses.
Fierro also took a dim view of Arias’ visits to his coworkers in prison who have been similarly charged. Fierro said that he did not believe Arias visited the prison for humanitarian reasons or that they had been properly disclosed.
Fierro noted that the charges against Arias are particularly serious as they directly affect the public.
As the judge issued his verdict, applause briefly broke out in the courtroom that was quickly silenced.
Arias was accused Thursday of using a network of informal contacts and an improper contract to subsidies at AIS. During his tenure as agricultural minister many subsidies were granted to wealthy families or people unrelated to the agricultural industry, such as former Miss Colombia Valerie Dominguez.
The former minister was widely considered ex-President Alvaro Uribe’s chief protege during his time at the ministry of agriculture.
He is also a columnist at El Colombiano, the director of which received a subsidy from AIS. Arias is represented by Gomez Gallego, who was nominated by Uribe to serve as Colombia’s prosecutor general.
Arias was previously barred from holding public office for 15 years for his alleged part in the scandal.