Colombia’s Supreme Court on Thursday sentenced former Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias to 17 years and four months in prison for embezzling agricultural subsidies meant to stimulate the country’s ailing agricultural sector.
The court had already convicted the minister earlier this month.
Prosecutors successfully demonstrated that the former minister under ex-President Alvaro Uribe had funneled state subsidies from the Agro Ingreso Seguro (AIS) program that were intended for poor farmers, but instead were given to wealthy and politically powerful families, a beauty queen, and even former paramilitaries.
Colombia’s Supreme Court determined that Arias “acted with total knowledge of the illegality of his conduct,” adding that he always had active participation and knowledge of the actions that surrounded the planning and execution of the AIS program while Minister of Agriculture, according to Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper.
Arias has categorically denied responsibility.
The former minister was not present at both the conviction and the sentencing hearing as he fled Colombia allegedly days before the court declared him guilty of embezzlement.
Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin on Thursday confirmed media reports that had alleged Arias is currently in Florida.
The minister said Arias had been at the Colombian consulate in Miami after he had disappeared from his home, allegedly evading his state-appointed bodyguards.
Holguin added she would seek the deportation of the fugitive former official once the court had defined the length of the sentence.
The former official has already spent two years in jail while awaiting the sentence for alleged witness tampering, but was released on bail last year.
The former Agriculture chief is the third top official of Uribe’s two consecutive terms (2002 – 2010) was felt forced to flee the country after criminal charges were filed over high-profile corruption and wiretap scandals.
Former Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo fled Colombia before being charged with faking the demobilization of a non-existent FARC front just before the 2006 presidential elections, while former intelligence chief Maria del Pilar Hurtado temporarily received political asylum in Panama before her conviction for the illegal wiretapping of the Supreme Court, human rights organization, journalists and opposition politicians. Both former officials are still fugitive.
Uribe has repeatedly claimed his former aides are victim of a political persecution against himself and his allies.