Nicaragua convicts 11 pastors linked to US ministry on 'sham charges' of money laundering

Nicaraguan prosecutors charged three U.S. citizens and 11 Nicaraguans with money laundering.(Photo: Mountain Gateway Ministries/ADF International)

(CP) The Nicaraguan judiciary has convicted 11 Nicaraguan pastors linked to the U.S.-based Mountain Gateway ministry on charges of money laundering. The case, which has caused great controversy in the Central American country and throughout the region, also implicates three U.S. citizens who have not yet been arrested, according to the prosecutor's office.

The charges relate to an alleged money laundering network that operated through wire transfers from the U.S. to Nicaragua. The charges came just weeks after the ministry held a series of massive evangelistic campaigns that organizers said drew more than a million people in various Nicaraguan cities.

The sentence was handed down behind closed doors at the Central Judicial Complex in Managua, where the trial was held.

On Jan. 17, Nicaraguan prosecutors charged three U.S. citizens and 11 Nicaraguans with money laundering. These individuals were allegedly part of a network that used two Christian NGOs as fronts. Prosecutors allege that Americans John Britton Hancock, Jacob Britton Hancock and Casandra Mae Hancock set up a subsidiary of Mountain Gateway Ministry in Nicaragua to receive wire transfers from the U.S.

In January, Mountain Gateway spokesman Steve Lisby told Christian Daily International that "we believe the basis of the charges are not correct. Everything that we've been required to do by the Nicaraguan government in the manner of managing money, we've done that, and we have the documentation of that. We came to Nicaragua 'cause we love the people and because we want to share with them Jesus."

The organization's lawyers have denounced this as a case of religious and political persecution and have requested the intervention of international human rights organizations and even the U.S. State Department.

In a press release, the ministry denounced that the accused pastors were not allowed to be physically present in court during one hearing but had to attend via video conference.

After learning of the verdict against the pastors, the Christian legal defense organization ADF International announced that it would take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

"ADF International is supporting Mountain Gateway's case and has filed a request for precautionary measures with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of those fraudulently convicted," the organization said in a statement. "ADF International has asked the Commission to demand that Nicaragua ensure the right to health, life, and physical integrity of the pastors during their stay in prison, while the proceedings are ongoing."

According to ADF International, several members of the U.S. Senate, including Sens. Rick Scott, R-Fla., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Katie Britt, R-Ala., and Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., are also advocating on the group's behalf, recently calling on the Biden administration to "implement strong, targeted sanctions following the repeated and escalating violations of religious freedom in Nicaragua."

"No one is safe from religious persecution in Nicaragua, and it is devastating to see the sham charges, trial and conviction of these pastors and ministry leaders who were simply sharing their faith with and serving the citizens of Nicaragua," stated Kristina Hjelkrem, legal counsel for ADF International.

© Christian Daily International