Former Agricultural Minister Andres Felipe Arias was charged with abuse of power and embezzlement of millions of dollars of state subsidies, but was not sent to jail because the Prosecutor General’s Office failed to disclose its evidence to the defense.
The judge suspended the hearing until 11AM Friday morning to allow the Prosecutor General’s Office to disclose the evidence and the defense to respond to the accusations against Arias. Prosecutor General Viviane Morales’ claims that Arias is “a danger to society” and must be in jail while his trial are pending.
In the hours before the suspension Morales explained to the court why the former minister must be sent to jail.
According to Morales the seriousness of the charges, the minimum penalty for the charges against him, and past obstruction of justice by the defendant justified denying Arias bond.
The former minister pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a minimum of four and a maximum of 15 years in jail.
Morales said the former minister masterminded the creation of a network of close relations at the agricultural ministry and Colombia’s agricultural development bureau which allowed Arias almost total control over the agricultural subsidy program Agro Ingreso Seguro (AIS) and embezzled almost $25 million through informal channels.
While intended for poor families, the government subsidies ended up in the pockets of economically and politically powerful families.
Wealthy families who received subsidies through AIS include the Davila, Lacouture, Vives, and Pinedo familes. Additionally, many of the recipients of subsidies under Arias’ tenure–including former Miss Colombia Valerie Dominguez–were not even connected to the agricultural industry.
Weekly Semana reported last year that Arias was receiving undisclosed campaign donations from the same wealthy individuals who had illegally received the agricultural subsidies.
Arias was considered the protege of ex-President Alvaro Uribe and is a prominent columnist at the newspaper El Colombiano. The director of the newspaper also received a subsidy through AIS.
Arias has already been barred from holding public office for 15 years for his alleged responsibility in the scandal.