Nicaragua pardons, returns 21 Hondurans, including MS-13 gang leader

By Ismael Lopez

MANAGUA (Reuters) – Nicaragua has pardoned 21 Honduran prisoners and returned them to its northern neighbor, including a leader of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) criminal gang who was detained immediately upon crossing the border, Honduran police said on Sunday.

Nicaragua also plans to return prisoners to Costa Rica, the government of its southern neighbor said on Saturday.

A similar transfer on Oct. 18 involved 43 Honduran prisoners. Nicaragua has not disclosed reasons for its action.

Sunday’s transfer involved David Elias Campbell Licona, known as “El Viejo Dan”, who was a leader of MS-13 – a gang that originated in Los Angeles, operates in the United States and controls territory throughout Central America.

Campbell Licona had been wanted by Honduran authorities on money laundering and gang charges since 2016, and was captured in Nicaragua in June 2021.

He was sanctioned in February this year by the United States, where he is wanted for possession of firearms and faces conspiracy charges including murder and the import of cocaine.

Campbell Licona used businesses the gang owned or controlled to launder drug proceeds, including through U.S. banks, U.S. authorities have said.

(Reporting by Ismael Lopez and Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Christopher Cushing)