11th Circuit Takes Up Colombian Extradition Fight

MIAMI (CN) ­­– An attorney for a former Colombian minister of agriculture seeking asylum for political persecution told an 11th Circuit panel Thursday that his client cannot be extradited using a treaty that has never been ratified.

Bogota, Colombia.

The hearing before a three-judge panel in Miami stems from a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in 2017 by Andres Felipe Arias Leiva, who was convicted for corruption and embezzlement of public funds and sentenced to 17 years in prison by the Colombian Supreme Court in 2014.

Arias Leiva fled to the United States with his wife and children before his conviction with the help of the U.S. embassy in Bogota, and immediately sought asylum alleging political persecution from the administration of former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

He says he was convicted by a corrupt and politicized tribunal that was seeking Santos’ re-election.

In 2016, the Colombian Supreme Court asked the U.S. to arrest and extradite Arias Leiva using a treaty that, according to Arias Leiva, has not been lawfully ratified by Colombia.

A federal judge denied Arias Leiva’s amended petition for writ of habeas corpus last October, and a request for release on bond was denied in January.

On appeal at a special hearing of the 11th Circuit in Miami, attorney David Markus with the local firm Markus Moss said there is no extradition treaty in effect between the U.S. and Colombia.

“The treaty has been declared unconstitutional, and the Colombian Supreme Court said that the treaty was not properly ratified,” Markus said.

He claimed that for the last 30 years, Colombia has never extradited anyone pursuant to the treaty.

U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus seemed unconvinced, saying there’s an asymmetry on how the treaty is being followed.

“If there’s no treaty, we would be obliged to examine the case,” the judge said.

Christopher J. Smith, who appeared on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, argued that the treaty has been in full force for years.

“The treaty comes into force when instruments of ratification are exchanged,” Smith said.

“We receive extradition requests all the time. We may also employ other means to return fugitives, such as immigration issues,” he added.

Markus countered by saying that if a treaty is reciprocal, it has to be enforced and followed internally in both countries.

Meanwhile, U.S. Circuit Judge Frank M. Hall asked the attorneys for Arias Leiva’s asylum petition status, saying that it could help the case, but Smith replied that the immigration case is still pending and he didn’t have detailed information on it.

The panel did not say when the court will issue a ruling in the case.  

Markus said in a statement to Courthouse News that his client is the victim of a political and corrupt prosecution.

“We are hopeful that the court will do the right thing and rule in his favor quickly,” he said.

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