Colombian ex-minister banned from public service

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s Solicitor General’s office banned a former agriculture minister from public service for 16 years yesterday over a subsidy scandal, the latest involving appointees of former President Alvaro Uribe.

Since the last years of his presidency, Uribe and his government’s officials have been under pressure from scandals including giving agricultural subsidies to supporters, allegedly wiretapping opponents and killing civilians then dressing them up as insurgents.

Former Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias was banned from public office for his oversight over the improper disbursement of farming subsidies worth about $3.8 million. Arias is known as “Uribito,” or little Uribe, for acting and looking like his former boss Uribe.

Arias, 38, was the agriculture minister from 2005 until 2009 when he quit to prepare his own presidential bid.
Ten other current and former members of the agriculture ministry also were sanctioned, the solicitor’s office said.

The Solicitor General’s office oversees the actions of government officials, while the Attorney General’s office handles criminal investigations. Tuesday’s action is separate from a process in the Attorney General’s office that could land Arias and others in jail.

In a statement published by the local press, Arias criticized but accepted the solicitor’s decision and said that he is being sanctioned over a project that was “correctly and honorably planned by the team of the agriculture ministry.”

The subsidies programme was intended to help small farmers, but often ended in the pockets of wealthy families and businesses — even a former beauty queen — that backed Uribe’s first re-election run in 2006.

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