BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia's inspector general announced disciplinary charges Tuesday against two former agriculture ministers in a case involving the alleged diversion of funds from a small-farmers subsidy program to wealthy hacienda owners.

Between 2007 and 2009, during President Alvaro Uribe's administration, about 500 billion Colombian pesos, or more than $277 million, were set aside for the subsidy program designed to help small agricultural producers. Local media reports have said $1 million ended up invested in the estates of wealthy Colombians.

Andres Felipe Arias, who was agriculture minister in 2006-09, and Andres Fernandez, who held the post in 2009-10, are named in the complaint issued by Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez.

Arias and Fernandez could not be immediately located for comment. They have six months to assemble their defense, and will face sanctions if they lose their case.

Arias, 37, was Uribe's hand-picked candidate for the Conservative Party's presidential nomination, but lost in the March primary to the eventual presidential winner, Juan Manuel Santos. He recently declined a nomination by Santos to be ambassador to Italy.

The Inspector General's Office investigates public officials only for disciplinary charges. The Attorney General's Office, which is also looking into the case, is empowered to file criminal charges.

Earlier this month, the inspector general barred Uribe's former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, from public service for 18 years for his role in a domestic spying scandal. Moreno was among nine former senior officials, including three former chiefs of Colombia's DAS domestic spying agency, who were sanctioned in the case.

Copyright 2010 The AP.

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