Dictatorship in Nicaragua Accuses Catholic Church of Money Laundering

The day before, according to what was reported by various media outlets, the regime had ordered the accounts of the country’s dioceses and parishes to be frozen.

Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Matagalpa, Nicaragua (photo: Shutterstock)

The Nicaraguan National Police, controlled by the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, published a statement May 27 accusing the Catholic Church of various crimes such as money laundering, a baseless charge, according to human-rights defenders.

The statement says that the police conducted “investigations that led to the discovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars hidden in bags located in facilities belonging to the dioceses in the country,” such as Matagalpa and Estelí.

The text also indicates that the investigations “confirmed the illegal withdrawal of funds from bank accounts that had been ordered by law to be frozen, as well as other illegal acts that are still being investigated as part of a money-laundering network that has been discovered in dioceses of different departments [administrative districts].”

The day before, according to what was reported by various media outlets, the regime had ordered the accounts of the country’s dioceses and parishes to be frozen.

The government communiqué states that the attorney general’s office, the Superintendency of Banks, and the financial analysis unit — organizations controlled by the regime — “have confirmed the criminal movement of funds that, for the dioceses, have entered the country irregularly and which are being investigated and proceedings have been opened for all these crimes.”

The text also indicates that the Superintendency of Banks has requested that the bishops’ conference and the archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, present the documents that show the bank-account transactions of the dioceses “so that at all times the laws of the country are complied with, avoiding the illegal acts that have been committed.”

In a May 29 statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Félix Maradiaga, former presidential candidate and exiled human-rights defender, stated that “it’s impossible for the police to have found this alleged illicit money in the Diocese of Matagalpa, because that diocese has been, both the chancery and many of the parishes, under police intervention during the last six months.”

“That’s absolutely unacceptable, but it is also Orwellian. It’s ridiculous that the same chancery from which Bishop Rolando Álvarez was taken away is now designated as the locus of illegal acts,” said Maradiaga, who was deported to the United States on Feb. 9 along with more than 200 other former political prisoners.

Bishop Álvarez of Matagalpa was held under house arrest by the regime for months before being unjustly sentenced Feb. 10 to 26 years and four months in prison.

Maradiaga stressed that with the accusations of the police against the Church, “the regime is using totally disproportionate arguments to dismantle the presence of the dioceses, especially that of Matagalpa and Estelí.”

“The persecution of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua continues. The dictatorship is not letting up in its attempt to silence the prophetic and pastoral voice of the Church,” he lamented.

Martha Patricia Molina, a Nicaraguan lawyer and researcher and author of the report “Nicaragua, A Persecuted Church?”, told ACI Prensa that with the police statement “the dictatorship confirms its war against the entire Nicaraguan Church and more so by choosing to freeze the bank accounts of the different dioceses of the country, of parishes and also of parochial schools.”

“The dictatorship makes use of the judiciary, of the Nicaraguan justice system, which does not adhere to the political constitution nor the laws of the land, but only follows orders given by the Nicaraguan presidential couple,” she explained.

“Without any doubt, this is a process that is full of arbitrariness from beginning to end. I think they have already prepared the verdict that they are going to deliver to the Nicaraguan Catholic Church, noting that Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, and his wife, the vice president, have on multiple occasions referred to the Catholic Church as an organized terrorist and criminal mafia,” continued the expert, who now lives in exile.

On Feb. 21 at a public event, Ortega said that Christ “lives in the Christian peoples, not because of the example that priests, bishops, cardinals and popes may give, who are a mafia.”

Molina told ACI Prensa that in the investigation against the Church, “the principle of innocence is going to be obviated; i.e., they are already seeing the Catholic Church as guilty.”

Molina also pointed out that “there is a chaotic situation at the moment, because, also at the end of the month, all the parishes have to fulfill their obligations and also the parochial school by paying for basic services such as electricity, water, the telephone, and the staff.”

“Many families are losing their right to work. The teachers who teach in the parishes are going to run out of money without their salary. When you violate one human right, you violate the rest,” the specialist pointed out.

“Once the dictatorship freezes the accounts, the next step that it usually takes is the confiscation of the assets, and in this case they are possibly going to do that. I believe that the dictatorship is trying to financially suffocate the Church, thinking that in this way it will no longer raise that prophetic voice. But the Church is much more than bank accounts,” she assured.

Molina said that in Nicaragua, “anti-laundering laws are being used solely to criminalize people and institutions that think differently than the government, institutions that are demanding peace, justice, and the establishment of democratic order,” such as the Catholic Church.

“Countries also have to condemn this very unjust action that is being carried out at this time against the clergy,” she stressed.

In his homily for Pentecost Sunday Mass on May 28 at the Managua cathedral, Cardinal Brenes alluded to what the parishes are going through.

The cardinal encouraged the faithful to remain calm and not “to listen to a lot of news, a lot of publications that exaggerate.”

“They say ‘reliable sources,’ but the reliable source is never revealed, so let’s remain calm, peaceful, and without a doubt the Holy Spirit is the one who is leading this Church, and we will soon have the respective solutions,” he continued.

“Our parishes continue to work. We have experienced difficult crises, such as the time of the pandemic, but the Spirit sustains the parishes and also the generosity of all of you,” the cardinal stressed.

“So I invite you to always remain calm and not be influenced by networks and news that truly exaggerate. I rarely read them, but sometimes they send them to me and it makes me laugh to see everything they say, because I don’t find any basis for it,” the archbishop of Managua commented.

As of press time, neither Cardinal Brenes nor the bishops of Nicaragua have issued a statement on the dictatorship’s decision to freeze bank accounts or the accusations of crimes such as money laundering.

Regarding what Cardinla Brenes said, Molina told ACI Prensa that logically the media are not going to reveal their sources “at any time, because their identity must be protected,” because if the name is made known, “immediately the dictatorship is going to start criminal proceedings.”

According to Maradiaga, what the cardinal said is due to the fact that “the Church in Nicaragua has been forced to keep quiet so as not to compromise the safety of other religious and other members of the clergy.”

“It’s up to us, therefore, the Nicaraguan laity and the world, to denounce what is happening in Nicaragua: a persecution of the Church, unprecedented in Latin America,” he stressed.

In the last five years there have been at least 529 attacks by the Ortega regime against the Church, 90 so far in 2023, according to Molina’s report “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?”

The report includes the unjust imprisonment of Bishop Álvarez, 32 nuns expelled from the country, seven Church buildings confiscated by the regime, and various media outlets shut down.

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