Jose Francisco Cardenal, a businessman who in 1981 helped to found the largest Nicaraguan rebel group, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), was expelled from it in 1982 after charging its leaders (and being charged by them, in turn) with fraud. He was replaced by Adolfo Calero as director of the FDN.

In an interview Tuesday, before the House voted to approve a $100 million aid package for the rebels, Cardenal said:

"Calero was not accepted, he was imposed on the FDN by the Central Intelligence Agency . . . . The three current rebel leaders seek only power for themselves . . . . Aid should pass but if it goes to this leadership it will be lost . . . . They must be investigated and removed. They are corrupt . . . they trick you once and then again and again . . . they are leaders without followers . . . . The CIA knows this and has allowed it to continue . . . they are not serving President Reagan's interests or those of the United States . . . . Independent Nicaraguans should be put in charge of any aid spending in Honduras."

But yesterday, after the $100 million won congressional backing, Cardenal appeared at a news conference to embrace Calero and the other rebel leaders and to rejoin their cause. This is what he said:

"I am very pleased that this aid was approved. It is a down payment on the future . . . . My position has always been in favor of the freedom fighters . . . . We are now together, all thinking only of Nicaragua. I hope the investigation of corruption, pending in Congress will be completed and then everything will be cleared up . . . . I have always been opposed to corruption. I never said anything different.