Evangelical Leaders Decry Softer Sentence for Ex-Nicaraguan President

Evangelical leaders in Nicaragua are expressing disappointment over a judge's decision to ease the sentance of the nation's former President who had been 20 years under house arrest for crimes including fraud and embezzlement.

The judge in the case, Roxana Zapata, said the former President Arnoldo Aleman, 58, was suffering from 10 chronic ailments, and was eligible under law to leave house arrest for medical reasons, according to the Associated Press. None of his afflictions are considered life threatening.

But Evenor Jerez, the interim director for the Council of Evangelical Churches in for Denominational Alliance (CEPAD), criticized the ruling.

"Aleman's liberty is a calamity for the justice process," said Jerez, who added that the ruling smacked of a political fix, and called on the citizenry to struggle to uphold the rule of law, according to ALC News.

Aleman was President from 1997 to 2002. In 2003, he was convicted of various crimes, including fraud, misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement, criminal association and electoral violations endangering the state.

During his presidency, he had been accused of diverting some $100 million dollars in government funds to his party's election campaigns as part of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party.

He was sentenced to 20 years under house arrest at his ranch south of Managua, the nation's capital.

CEPAD President Rev. Jose Alguera of the Nazarene Church lamented the liberation of "a man that has defrauded 100 million dollars," and said the decision by the judge would open the way for Aleman to present himself as a presidential candidate in the next elections.

Under the ruling, Aleman will be able to travel freely within the capital and will be required to ask for permission to move about the country. However, he is not eligible to leave Nicaragua.

The judge indicated that his ailments, which included diabetes and cardiovascular troubles, would be difficult to manage while under house detention.

Ellen Sherby, a mission worker for the Presbyterian Church (USA) for the past five years in Nicaragua said that Aleman's release was worrying and dangerous, according to ALC news. She cited anti-corruption watchdog group, Transparency International, which named Aleman one of the ten most corrupt leaders of the past two decades.