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Latin America

Arrested nephews of Venezuela’s first lady could face life in prison

New York court charges suspects with conspiracy to import narcotics following their capture

Nicolás Maduro y Cilia Flores
President Nicolás Maduro and Cilia Flores arrive in Geneva on Thursday. REUTERS

Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady, who were arrested by US drug agents in Haiti, could face life imprisonment if they are convicted of the trafficking charge outlined in a grand jury indictment made public on Thursday.

Efraín Campo, 29, and Francisco Flores, 30, were captured in Haiti after they allegedly tried to ship 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States that came from Honduras, officials said.

There has been no official statement from the Caracas government about the arrests

The undercover operation that led to their arrests was carried out by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with the help of Haitian authorities.

Both men have been identified as the nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores. Campo is also said to be the godson of President Nicolás Maduro.

After Haitian officials handed them over to DEA agents on Tuesday night, the two men were flown to New York where on Thursday US District Court told that they were charged with one count of conspiracy to import narcotics.

The Caracas government has yet to make an official statement about the case.

The indictment

The indictment in the case of United States versus Campo and Flores, which was unsealed in New York Thursday, states that the two had been conspiring to bring in a shipment of cocaine to the United States since October.

The suspects held different meetings in Venezuela with an informant to discuss transferring the shipment from Honduras.

The indictment states that they conspired to bring “five kilograms and more of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of cocaine, its salts, optical and geometric isomers, and salts of isomers.”

President Maduro and his wife attended a UN human rights meeting in Geneva on Thursday as part of an official trip to Asia and Europe and made no mention of the arrests.

Soon after the two men were taken to New York, Maduro wrote on his Twitter account: “Neither attacks nor imperialist ambushes can harm the people of the liberators. The fatherland will follow its course.”

The first lady, Cilia Flores, declined to respond to reporters’ questions in Geneva. The couple are expected back in Caracas on Friday.

In Venezuela, state-run media – and some private outlets whose owners are close to the Maduro government – did not carry the news of the arrests.

In a statement, Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the two could face life imprisonment if they are convicted. “The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by a judge,” he said.

According to various news reports, both Campo and Flores had Venezuelan diplomatic passports at the time of their capture in Haiti.

In an interview with CNN en Español, DEA director of operations Michael Vigil said the agency had been tracking the two for the past eight months.

The pursuit began with “very precise” information given to officials in Washington by Leamsy Salazar, a former Venezuelan naval officer and ex-bodyguard to National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello. Salazar fled Venezuela in January and began cooperating with US officials.

The plane Campo and Flores were on belonged to Sabenpe, a waste-collection company owned by the Khalil family, which has close ties to Cabello, according to Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of Miranda state and two-time presidential candidate demanded the Maduro government to offer an explanation.

“The Foreign Ministry needs to explain to the country why two men arrested for drug trafficking were holding diplomatic passports,” Capriles wrote on Twitter.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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