By Ivan Castro
MANAGUA (Reuters) - A Nicaraguan judge on Saturday ordered the incarceration of 18 people, including a Mexican policeman, who had posed as journalists while attempting to pass through the Central American country last week with at least $7 million in cash.
The suspects will remain behind bars in "protective custody" until a September 5 court date, when they will face money laundering and other criminal charges lodged by the federal prosecutors.
"I order that all of the accused before me be sent to protective custody as a precautionary measure," Judge Julio Cesar Arias said on Saturday following a formal presentation of charges.
The group was detained on Monday as it tried to cross from the north into Nicaragua from neighboring Honduras with the cash in six vehicles, Nicaragua's national police commissioner Aminta Granera said on Friday.
The chief prosecutor in the case, Ana Guido, told reporters Saturday the investigation is ongoing and no determination had been reached as to which, if any, criminal organization the detainees might belong.
Nicaraguan authorities have yet to finish counting the confiscated cash, nor have they confirmed the nationality of all the suspects, although each carried Mexican documents when they were arrested.
Several of the detainees, including the police officer, have been confirmed as Mexican citizens.
Granera said Friday the group had posed as reporters from Televisa, Mexico's largest broadcaster, and that police had found video cameras, audio equipment, microphones and satellite phones in the vehicles.
Nicaraguan authorities determined on Thursday that the detainees had no link to Televisa and were working with Interpol to see whether they belonged to any criminal organizations.
Over the past decade, drug-running cartels have cultivated Central American supply lines as Mexico's government wages a military offensive against the gangs throughout the country.
There have been more than 55,000 drug-related killings in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006.
(Reporting by Ivan Castro; writing by David Alire Garcia; editing by Todd Eastham)