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| 8/2/2011 1:00:00 PM

What's next for “uribito”?

A judge concluded that Andres Felipe Arias, former agriculture minister, tried to obstruct justice and ordered his incarceration. This is the first time that an Alvaro Uribe’s minister is jailed.

As, judge Orlando Fierro red his decision about minister Arias, involved in the scandal of Agro Ingreso Seguro (AIS), the country was seeing the public hearing, as if it were the end of a football championship, on television . And no wonder. Beyond the legal decision there is a political impact: after two hours of reading, the judge sent to prison the one who carried the legacy of the former president Álvaro Uribe.

Viviane Morales, the Attorney General, asked the judge to jail Uribito (Arias surname) because he is a "danger to society" and he tried to "obstruct justice." Fierro dismissed the first, but found that Arias tried to hinder the work of justice. "The commission of these behaviors deserve a drastic treatment" said Fierro.

How did Arias obstructed justice? The former minister met with his subordinates and beneficiaries of AIS in order to accommodate their versions and favor him.

Arias made ten visits by in less than two months to La Picota jail, where former officials of the ministry, involved in the case AIS, are detained. Arias defended himself by saying it was a "humanitarian" gesture, but judge ruled in favor of the Attorney’s position that showed some visits lasted four hours and two of them were made on days not scheduled for prisoner’s visits. "Although it is a high security prison and the admission is restricted, even for advocates and judicial officers," argued Fierro, Arias entries show that he remains influential, and suggest that they could "induce" the former officials.

On the other hand, according to the Attorney General, shortly after the scandal broke in 2009, Arias organized four meetings. The Court accepted these gatherings as signs of obstruction. Three of them were in social clubs, and one in former minister's office. The last one is the most tricky for Arias because, as former director of the Ministry of Rural Development Javier Enrique Romero testified, Arias supposedly said that the list of accusations of the Prosecutor office was about to be public and suggested the answers to give the authorities. "Arias used his influence to see the list of accusations and in the meetings he was looking for a kind of scapegoat, so that others assume his responsibility” said Judge Fierro.

The judge also took into account Arias’ meetings with Juan Manuel Davila, one of the beneficiaries of AIS, ex boyfriend of beauty pageant Valerie Dominguez. Arias' lawyer argued that these were "casual" meetings. However, for the magistrate, Arias wanted to avoid the scandal. All these situations, according to Fierro, show "a pattern of conduct". Therefore, he decided to send him to jail. Although he ordered to incarcerate Arias in La Picota prison, for security reasons he was finally taken to the Army Cavalry School, in Bogota.

Two days after, the former president Alvaro Uribe came on his defense and in a press release questioned the independence of the magistrate. According to him, Fierro is in its current position due to the support of former Supreme Court Judge Yesid Ramirez, whom Uribe questioned several times during his administration.

Interestingly, Arias defense did not appeal, perhaps because they want the process to advance rapidly. Now the stage of trial is coming. If the times are fulfilled as expected, the Attorney has three months to submit its indictment before the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court.

The duration of the trial is not easy to determine. The former Antioquia’s Attorney General Guillermo Leon Valencia, lasted two years in court. However, it was exceptionally long.

It would not be unusual, that with holydays in the middle, the trial would begin on January 2012. Uribito will defend himself of committing the crimes of undue conclusion of contracts and embezzlement by appropriation that are punished with 4 to 12 years in prison.

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