Last Friday, the United States government extradited to Colombia former Agriculture Minister Andrés Felipe Arias, who is awaiting conviction in his country for embezzlement among other crimes.

The Colombian Embassy in Washington received a note last Thursday, July 11, from the U.S. government notifying Colombia of the extradition of the former official. It had taken five years to finalize the extradition after it was requested. Arias is to serve a sentence of 17 and a half years.

Arias, who served in the government of former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez between 2005 and 2009, arrived in the nation’s capital on a private flight escorted by U.S. Marshals. According to Migración Colombia, the official was handed over to authorities.

According to AP, the former agriculture minister arrived in the United States in 2014, the same year in which he was convicted in Colombia of embezzlement and concluding a contract without complying with legal requirements. Arias’s sentence was prosecuted for diverting funds initially earmarked for small farmers to wealthy families in the Agro Ingreso Seguros program.

On Aug.24, 2016, he was arrested by U.S. authorities as a result of a petition by the Colombian government, but on Nov. 17 of the same year, he was granted bail after paying $10,000.

For his part, the former minister declared that everything is political persecution by the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos, who ended his term in 2018.

Regarding his recent extradition, the lawyer in charge of his trial, David Oscar Markus, said, “It is very sad that the United States extradited Mr. Arias, who was the victim of groundless and  false political accusations.”

“It is also very disappointing that the appellate court defers him to the U.S. Department of Justice, although everyone knows that there is no extradition treaty in force between the two countries,” the lawyer added.

On behalf of the Colombian government during the U.S. hearing in 2017, the prosecution argued that the opinions mentioned by the defense on political issues were “irrelevant,” reported the Colombian daily El País.

Brian Benczkowski, U.S. assistant attorney general, described the extradition process as “a commitment by the United States to our obligations under the extradition treaty and to the strength of our security partnership with Colombia.”

On the other hand, former president Álvaro Uribe (2002 – 2010) expressed on Twitter his regret at the news, saying “deep pain” and stressed that the government of Juan Manuel Santos had lied. “He did not steal a peso and was sentenced to 17 years. Very ‘effective’ justice against the innocent and indulgent with the criminals,” he remarked through the social network.

For now, it is expected that the Supreme Court will announce the prison for the ex-minister, but for the moment it is presumed that he would be in a military garrison.