WASHINGTON – The U.S. government announced Wednesday that it has formally begun extradition proceedings for former Colombian Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias, who was arrested earlier in the day in Miami.
Arias appeared along with three attorneys but made no comment at a preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court in Miami, where Judge Alicia Otazo Reyes informed him of the extradition process and said that she would decide on Friday whether or not she would grant or refuse him bail.
The former Colombian cabinet minister, who appeared in court handcuffed and shackled, is facing 17 years in prison in his home country in a corruption case involving an agricultural subsidy program for small farmers.
Attorneys for Arias, who appeared in court in civilian clothing, told EFE that the process took them by surprise, since the former minister requested asylum from the U.S. government two years ago and that case is still pending.
Hans Burgos, one of Arias’s lawyers, said that the extradition order was recently signed by Judge John O’Sullivan, who will be in charge of reviewing whether the charges on which the ex-minister was convicted and sentenced in Colombia in 2014 qualify him for extradition.
Burgos told EFE that the Colombian government two years ago presented an extradition request for Arias, but that on this occasion “it has taken a further step and requested that he be held in jail.”
Arias’s attorneys said that they will “aggressively” fight his extradition and criticized the fact that the asylum request has been pending for two years.
The former minister lives with his wife and children in South Florida, and Burgos said that during the time the asylum request has been pending Arias has twice received work permits.
Arias, who served in the Alvaro Uribe administration, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for corruption in his home country.
His arrest follows an extradition request filed with Washington by the Colombian government.
Uribe, who governed the South American nation from 2002 to 2010, tweeted that Arias’s arrest came as a result of pressure from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
When Arias fled Colombia in 2014, Uribe called on the international community to guarantee the protection of his former minister, whom he has claimed is a “victim ... (of) political judicial persecution.”
Arias was sentenced in July 2014 by the Colombian Supreme Court to 17 years behind bars and a 25 billion peso fine (about $13 million dollars) for providing agricultural subsidies to wealthy families rather than to farmers disadvantaged by the free trade agreement with Washington.
After being convicted of misappropriation of funds to third parties, Arias fled Colombia and sought asylum in the United States.