Dictatorship in Nicaragua withholds more than $500,000 donated by CRS to the Church

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, Diocese of Estelí, Nicaragua Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, Diocese of Estelí, Nicaragua. | Credit: Visit Nicaragua, official portal of the Marca País (Nicaragua)

A recent investigation by the Nicaraguan newspaper El Confidencial revealed that the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega has withheld more than half a million dollars that was donated to the Church in Estelí by the U.S. bishops’ humanitarian aid agency Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

The independent media reported June 2 that according to sources with ties to the diocese, the donation of $563,206 was legally made on June 14, 2012, to Estelí Caritas when Abelardo Mata was diocesan bishop.

The charity, whose legal personhood was canceled on Feb. 7, 2022, by the National Assembly, agreed to a “total donation” of the money to the Diocese of Estelí, whose apostolic administrator is currently Bishop Rolando Álvarez. The prelate was unjustly sentenced in February to 26 years and four months in prison, charged with treason by the regime. 

The money, the news outlet said, was the remainder of a donation that CRS had earmarked for the construction of a hospital.

“The accusation of money laundering is unfounded, because the funds are clean, the money belongs to the Diocese of Estelí, and the diocese decides what is most appropriate to guarantee its proper use,” a source told El Confidencial.

The newspaper also reported that in addition to the regime withholding the money, eight people from the diocese were arrested “under an alleged investigation for money laundering” in the case.

Those arrested are priests Rodríguez Benavides and Leonardo Guevara Gutiérrez, and laypersons Julio Sevilla, Julio Berríos, Bladimir Pallés, María Verónica Herrera Galeano, Freydell Andino, and Mariví Andino.

The arrests came after the Nicaraguan Police blocked the Church’s bank accounts in the country on May 27 and later accused it of money laundering. The regime claimed to have found hundreds of thousands of dollars hidden in the facilities of various dioceses including Matagalpa and Estelí where the imprisoned Álvarez is bishop and apostolic administrator respectively. 

However, human rights defenders said the accusation would not be substantiated.

“We hope that the corresponding authorities, once this situation is clarified, will suspend the precautionary measures, those affected will get back to their respective tasks and continue working for the progress and development of our beloved Nicaragua,” the sources within the diocese told the outlet.

On June 6, Félix Maradiaga, a Nicaraguan political activist and former political prisoner told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that the data from the El Confidencial investigation “are correct” and have been verified “with sources within the country.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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