Latin America

Venezuelan official accuses DEA of “kidnapping” first lady’s nephews

Maduro government has not officially commented on last week’s drug arrests in Haiti Detained suspects face a New York court hearing on December 2

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores.REUTERS

While the Venezuelan government has not commented publicly about the arrests of two nephews of the country’s first lady on drugs charges last week, a top official in Caracas has accused the United States of “kidnapping” the two men in Haiti by putting them on a plane to face criminal charges in New York.

Efraín Campo Flores, 29, and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, each face one count of conspiracy to import narcotics into the country in US District Court in New York.

If found guilty, the two could face a maximum of two years in prison. They are being held without bail.

In truth, a plane went to Haiti, it went with six people and they kidnapped two of them” National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello

In a television interview on Monday, National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello called the arrests “irregular.”

“I do not see it as an arrest. In truth, a plane went to Haiti, it went with six people and they kidnapped two of them,” Cabello said.

The two suspects were arrested in Port-au-Prince on November 10 for allegedly trying to ship around 800 kilograms of cocaine that purportedly came from Honduras to the United States.

Their arrests came after an eight-month undercover operation in which an informant allegedly began meeting with the two in Venezuela from October to discuss the shipment. Campo and Flores were arrested by Haitian authorities who immediately turned them over to DEA agents.

“It is very irregular what the DEA has done in this case [...] how a plane involved with drugs was returned immediately to Venezuela, how the other people were released immediately and only two were taken,” said Cabello, who is also reportedly being investigated by the DEA.

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The plane was purportedly allowed to return to Venezuela with its four-member crew on board.

Cabello said that it “was not proven” that the two men were actually nephews to Venezuela’s first lady Cilia Flores. But, he said, if they were, neither President Nicolás Maduro, nor his wife, should be held responsible for their actions.

“I can’t be up at around 10pm asking myself what my relatives are up to. They are adults and they are responsible for their actions,” he said.

US authorities have said that the suspects identified themselves as nephews to the first lady while Campo said he was also Maduro’s godson. They also both said they were covered by diplomatic immunity, but a US State Department spokesman rejected that claim.

“That’s not our understanding,” said spokesman Mark C. Toner on Friday. “We don’t believe these individuals have diplomatic immunity.”

Cabello and other top officials have accused the United States of using the arrests to destabilize the Maduro government ahead of the December 6 parliamentary elections.

I can’t be up at around 10pm asking myself what my relatives are up to. They are adults and they are responsible for their actions” National Assembly speaker Cabello

Among the arguments Maduro administration officials have presented to back their claims of US interference was the July 2014 arrest in Aruba of a former Venezuelan intelligence officer, Hugo Carvajal, who is also wanted by the United States.

Carvajal was finally released by authorities in Aruba after intense diplomatic talks with the Dutch government, which oversees the Caribbean island’s foreign affairs.

“This was strictly a law enforcement matter. It had nothing to do with the politics of Venezuela. As we’ve said multiple times from this podium and elsewhere, we don’t want to interfere with the internal politics of Venezuela,” said Toner during a State Department press briefing.

Campo and Flores will appear before US District Judge Paul Crotty on December 2 for their first status conference in the case. Campo has retained private criminal lawyers, John J. Reilly of New York and Rebekah Poston of Miami, while Flores has appointed New York public defender Vincent Southerland.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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