Felipe Arias and his family
Felipe Arias and his family (Handout Photo)

A Colombian politician fighting extradition from the U.S. on corruption charges filed a petition in Miami to be released on bond, pending examination of his country’s request to return him to face a 17-year prison sentence.

One-time Colombian presidential candidate and former minister of agriculture Andres Felipe Arias allegedly embezzled and redirected to wealthy landowners millions earmarked for impoverished rural farmers. He is jailed on an extradition warrant at the Federal Detention Center in Miami, and filed the motion Sept. 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Arias’ attorney, prominent criminal defense lawyer David Oscar Markus, said the allegations were politically motivated and do not rise to the standard for extradition.

“He never got a dollar,” Markus said. “There are no allegations of kickbacks or financial gain. The allegations would not amount to a crime here in the United States.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Emery did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. federal agents arrested Arias Aug. 24 at his home in Weston, where he had relocated and was working as a consultant. His attorneys noted he has lived in Florida with his family for two years and has a pending petition for asylum after escaping unfair prosecution by state attorneys with ties to the FARC, a left-wing rebel army that Arias’ conservative party worked to dismantle. They claim he fled Colombia to seek political asylum with the help of the U.S. embassy in Bogota, which renewed Arias’ tourist visa while he was on trial for corruption. The U.S. also granted Arias a work permit after he and his family arrived in Florida to settle in suburban Broward County, according to his motion.

But prosecutors paint a different picture of a corrupt politician who fled in 2014 on the eve of his conviction, who took the money intended for rural farmers and instead gave it to wealthy landowners who in turn made hefty financial contributions to former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s political campaigns.

The trial ended with Arias banned from running for political office for 18 years, and a 17-year sentence that was handed down after he had fled the country.

The defense motion suggests the extradition warrant is part of a ploy by political rival and current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who announced a peace treaty with the FARC on the same day U.S. marshals arrested Arias. Like Arias, Santos was once part of the Uribe administration, which fought the FARC, but he later broke from the party and made peace with the rebel group.

Santos was ushered into power after winning a run-off against another former cabinet colleague, but the embezzlement scandal forced Arias out of the presidential race.

“This is an exceptional case in which release on bail is justified,” says the motion, signed by Markus, fellow defense lawyers Marc David Seitles, of Seitles & Litwin in Miami, and Coral Gables attorney Ricardo Bascuas. “There is no diplomatic necessity to jail Dr. Arias during this proceeding, especially given Colombia’s delay in seeking Dr. Arias’ arrest, which betrays its political motive.”

The motion is pending before Magistrate Judge John O’Sullivan.

Contact Samantha Joseph at sjoseph@alm.com. On Twitter: @SJosephWriter