A close ally of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was sentenced in absentia Thursday to more than 17 years in prison for diverting farm subsidies in one of the most prominent corruption cases tied to the conservative administration.
Colombia’s Supreme Court on Thursday handed down the sentence against former Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias, who was found guilty of diverting money intended for small-scale farmers to some of the country’s richest landowners. Arias has denied any wrongdoing.
The 41-year-old former presidential contender already served two years in jail as part of the investigation but was paroled last year.
The case is just one of a number of investigations against former officials that Uribe says are being urged on by President Juan Manuel Santos. Among Uribe allies facing charges are the former president’s top legal adviser and a former peace commissioner in his 2002-10 U.S.-backed administration. The former head of Colombia’s disbanded secret intelligence agency is serving a 25-year sentence for ties to paramilitary groups and Santos’ government is also seeking the extradition of another Uribe spy chief, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, who fled to Panama after being charged with deploying illegal wiretaps on Supreme Court justices, journalists and human rights activists.
Colombia’s foreign minister said Arias is believed to be living in South Florida and that the government would request his deportation if he fails to respond to an arrest order.
Kevin Whitaker, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, declined to comment, telling reporters in Bogotá that an extradition such request would be evaluated in accordance with U.S. law.