U.S. Extradites Former Colombian Minister of Agriculture Convicted of Embezzlement and Illegal Government Contracting
The United States today extradited Andres Felipe Arias Leiva, who served as Colombia’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2005 to 2009, to face a prison sentence in that country based on a 2014 conviction by the Supreme Court of Colombia for two offenses committed while Arias served in public office.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida made the announcement.
“Andres Arias’s extradition is a testament to the United States’ commitment to our extradition treaty obligations and the strength of our law enforcement partnership with Colombia,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “I thank the team from the Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida for their tireless, years-long efforts to ensure that Arias serves his prison sentence in Colombia.”
“Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Southern District of Florida, alongside attorneys for the Department’s Office of International Affairs, have worked hard to ensure that former Colombian government official Andres Arias would be extradited back to his home country to serve a sentence imposed by that nation’s highest court,” said U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan. “We are grateful to the dedication of Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Emery and Associate Director Christopher J. Smith and Trial Attorney Rebecca A. Haciski of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs of the U.S. Department of Justice for their work in making this possible. Our Office is committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that justice is appropriately carried out for all parties.”
Arias, a citizen of Colombia who entered the United States in 2014 and was residing in Weston, Florida, was convicted on July 16, 2014, by the Criminal Cassation Division of the Supreme Court of Colombia on two offenses, Embezzlement for Third Parties, in violation of Article 397 of the Colombian Criminal Code, and Conclusion of Contract Without Fulfilling Legal Requirements, in violation of Article 410 of the same code. Arias was present and represented by counsel at his trial in Colombia, and following his conviction, the Colombian court sentenced him to serve 209 months in prison. As detailed in the 193-page decision issued by the Supreme Court of Colombia, Arias’s criminal conduct related to the diversion of funds within the Colombian government’s Argo Ingreso Seguro program, which he was responsible for implementing during his term as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, a cabinet-level position in Colombia’s executive branch, from 2005 to 2009.
The United States acted on a request for Arias’s extradition submitted by the Republic of Colombia, which Arias vigorously contested in both the Southern District of Florida and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. On Sept. 28, 2017, a U.S. magistrate judge in the Southern District of Florida ruled that Arias could be extradited to Colombia to serve the sentence based on his conviction. Arias then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which the district court for the Southern District of Florida denied on Oct. 5, 2018. Arias appealed that decision to the Eleventh Circuit. Following extensive briefing and argument, the litigation culminated on July 8, 2019, when the court of appeals rejected Arias’s arguments against extradition. Consistent with the views of the U.S. Department of State and 40 years of extradition practice between the United States and Colombia, the court of appeals affirmed that the extradition treaty between the two countries remains in full force and effect.
Following a thorough review of Arias’s case, the Department of State issued a warrant ordering Arias’s surrender to Colombian authorities. Today, the U.S. Marshals Service executed that warrant, transported Arias to Colombia, and delivered him to the custody of Colombian authorities. Arias’s extradition is now complete.
The extradition proceedings and subsequent appellate litigation were handled by Associate Director Christopher J. Smith and Trial Attorney Rebecca A. Haciski of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert J. Emery and Emily M. Smachetti of the Southern District of Florida with the support of myriad attorneys and international affairs specialists in the Office of International Affairs of the Department’s Criminal Division.