Nephews of Venezuela first lady guilty of US drug charges

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores (second from left) and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas standing with law enforcement officers in this Nov 12, 2015, photo after their arrest in Port Au Prince, Haiti.
Efrain Antonio Campo Flores (second from left) and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas standing with law enforcement officers in this Nov 12, 2015, photo after their arrest in Port Au Prince, Haiti.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - A jury on Friday (Nov 18) convicted two nephews of Venezuela's first lady of plotting to smuggle 800kg of cocaine into the United States, with Caracas saying the pair were essentially framed.

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 30, and Francisco Flores de Freitas, 31, were arrested in Haiti in November and flown to New York by US Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

Their week-long trial in federal court in New York resulted in Friday's guilty verdict for conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States as well as manufacturing and distribution with the intent to import.

Lawyers for both defendants tried to argue that the nephews were not crafty enough to plot or carry out the scheme and that they had fallen into a trap set by the DEA, in a covert operation in which US$20 million (S$28.5 million) was offered for the drugs.

Prosecutors, however, argued that the men believed they were above the law as relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The pair are the sons of brothers of Maduro's wife Cilia Flores, who served as speaker of the National Assembly from 2006 to 2011.

Maduro's right-hand man Diosdado Cabello has likened their arrest to a kidnapping by the DEA, saying they were effectively set up.

Sentencing is set for March 7, according to Judge Paul Crotty, with the crimes carrying a minimum of 10 years to life in prison.