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Leaked cables say Nicaragua government took bribes

U.S. diplomats accuse Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government of taking bribes from drug traffickers and receiving "suitcases full of cash" from Venezuelan officials, according to confidential documents released this week by WikiLeaks.

The leaked documents from the U.S. Embassy in Managua, Nicaragua, allege that Ortega has used drug money to finance campaigns for the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The money from international drug traffickers is "usually in return for ordering Sandinista judges to allow traffickers caught by the police and military to go free," reads a May 5, 2006, cable from an embassy official.

The official said that in one 2005 case, a Supreme Court judge "coordinated a complicated scheme to make 609,000 dollars in drug money seized from two Colombians 'disappear' from a Supreme Court account."

Another Sandinista judge accused of complicity in the bribery scheme, Rafael Solis, denied that he took bribes, telling local Nicaraguan television station Channel 63 that the WikiLeaks documents are "baseless and have no credibility."

Spokespeople from Nicaragua's foreign ministry and vice president's office declined to comment on the cables, while Ortega's communications department did not release an official reaction.

Another cable dated May 8, 2008, describes Ortega as a "willing follower" of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The cable refers to Ortega as a "Chavez 'Mini-Me.'" The report says Ortega uses Venezuelan oil money to fund Sandinista campaigns and that "several unconfirmed reports indicate that Ortega will have as much as 500 million dollars at his disposal over the course of 2008."

That same cable said that Nicaraguan officials "receive suitcases full of cash from Venezuelan officials during official trips to Caracas." Over the course of three years, Ortega's government received almost a billion dollars in assistance from Venezuela, according to a cable dated Feb. 25, 2010.

Venezuelan government officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Ortega rose to power after the Sandinista rebels toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, ruling a guerrilla-dominated junta before winning a presidential election in 1984. His government fought the U.S.-backed Contra rebels for a decade until Ortega lost his bid to be elected for a second term.

He was voted back to office in 2006 but by then the country had banned presidents from seeking consecutive terms. Ortega won a court ruling last year to overturn the ban on re-election.

The diplomatic document dated Feb. 25, 2010, said Ortega has made "persistent overtures to Iran" but those have "failed to produce anything besides ideological capital."

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Lillian Nigaglioni said U.S. diplomats in Nicaragua would not comment on the cables.

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Associated Press Filadelfo Aleman in Managua contributed to this report.