Former Agriculture Minister & International Fugitive Andrés Felipe Arias Loses Final Corruption Appeal
Colombia’s Supreme Court on February 3rd reaffirmed the conviction and sentencing of former Minister of Agriculture Andrés Felipe Arias Leiva (above photo, second from right) for corruption years after Arias and his legal team pushed for his conviction to be reviewed.
The Supreme Court released the ruling, showing that for the charges of “contract crimes without compliance with legal requirements and embezzlement by appropriation,” they reaffirmed the “17 years 5 months and 8 days” sentence that Arias received in 2014 for his Agro Ingreso Seguro (AIS) scheme during his tenure as minister.
The case against Arias largely revolves around irregularities in the contracts made for the AIS, with Arias giving irrigation and drainage contracts to connected businessmen in the agriculture industry without going through a public bidding process, as well as using his control of the projects in order to embezzle money for his own personal gain.
After being convicted of the crime in 2014, Arias’ defense team launched an appeal claiming that the AIS program’s collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation for the Portfolio of Agriculture (IICA) makes it a transfer of science and technology, allowing it to bypass the public bidding process, El Tiempo reported.
Arias fled to the US claiming political persecution but the US sent him back to Colombia to face his corruption charges.
Arias had fled to the United States in 2014 right as he was being convicted for the above charges, but he was extradited back to Colombia in 2019 upon the request of the Colombian government and after a US court stated that Arias could be extradited to serve his sentence.
Arias also claimed that, due to his political affiliation with the movement of former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe at the time, his more-than-17-year sentence was an attempt at political persecution, and that the case was pushed by former President Juan Manuel Santos to support his candidacy.
“Former President Juan Manuel Santos had a lot to do with my process, not only with how it ended, but with its beginnings. Of course, there was a lot of influence from President Santos, from his government, from the persecution, we have no doubt about that,” Arias claimed.
The Supreme Court reviewed this claim from Arias that, because of the science and technology component of the AIS program, it did not need to undergo a public bidding process like other projects typically would, but in the end, rejected the argument.
“According to the determination, it was proven that the aforementioned agreements did not conform to the legal presuppositions of Decrees 393 and 591 of 1991. While the cooperation provided by IICA did not represent the transfer of technology and innovation to the beneficiaries of the program, sufficient reason for its celebration to have been carried out through public bidding and not directly as it was done.”
Arias’ legal team also claimed that his role as Minister meant that his involvement in the said AIS contracts was minimal at best. However, the Supreme Court showed that Arias had responsibility as the Minister of Agriculture over the projects, and that he was responsible for the irregularities that the project had undergone.
“In the Court’s opinion, despite his influence over Ministry officials and the control he exercised from the beginning over the AIS program through this interference in the Administrative Committee, and despite knowing of the illegal division of properties from before October 2009, the former minister did nothing to prevent the appropriation of resources by individuals through such conduct.
Consequently, regarding the crime of embezzlement, the decision makes it clear that Arias’s responsibility lies in the control exercised over the Program Units, from which he received information and was aware of what was happening, therefore, the circumstance of the fact that no project has been rejected due to the false information provided shows his commitment to the appropriation of public resources by third parties.”
The Supreme Court continued, saying in their decision “that Arias Leiva had interfered with the Administrative Committee in charge of approving the lists sent by IICA of beneficiaries of AIS subsidies, in accordance with the terms of reference of the contracts to implement and develop the program. And if the Committee, in which the minister participated, was assigned that function, it is understandable that he could modify them and not be a simple validator of those lists.”
With regard to the claim of it being a transfer of science and technology, the Court said: “For the Chamber, in the trial, it was proven that an irrigation and drainage system for whoever adopts it, incorporates it or installs it in a productive project or modifies the existing one, is innovation or technology transfer. However, these AIS program agreements were aimed at calls to manage resources.
Arias has reportedly acquiesced to the decision of the Supreme Court in the matter, and will wait to find out how he will serve the remaining years of his sentence.