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US extradites former Colombian agriculture minister

July 12, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. government extradited a former Colombian official on Friday to face a prison sentence in the South American nation after he was convicted of embezzlement and other charges.

Andres Felipe Arias Leiva, who served as Colombia’s minister of agriculture and rural development from 2005 to 2009, was returned to Colombia by the U.S. Marshals Service. He was accused of taking money intended for small-scale farmers and channeling it to some of the country’s richest landowners.

Arias entered the U.S. in 2014, the same year he was convicted in Colombia of embezzlement and illegal government contracting. He was sentenced in absentia to more than 17 years in prison.

Colombia filed a formal extradition request with the U.S., which Arias aggressively fought for several years. The legal battle made its way through the federal court system in southern Florida, where he was living, and to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court ultimately declined to block the extradition earlier this week.

The State Department issued a warrant ordering Arias’ surrender to Colombian authorities and the Marshals Service acted on that warrant to deliver him to Colombian authorities on Friday, the Justice Department said.

“It’s very sad that the U.S. extradited Mr. Arias, who was the victim of a sham, political, and meritless prosecution,” his attorney, David Oscar Markus, said in a statement. “It’s also disappointing that the court of appeals deferred to the U.S. State Department, even though everyone knows that there is no extradition treaty in effect between the two countries.”

Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said the extradition was “a testament to the United States’ commitment to our extradition treaty obligations and the strength of our law enforcement partnership with Colombia.”

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