Nephews of Venezuelan first lady admit to drug trafficking charges

Pair arrested in November now face life imprisonment over 800 kg cocaine shipment

Efraín Campos and Francisco Flores at their hearing.
Efraín Campos and Francisco Flores at their hearing.Elizabeth Williams (AP)
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The two nephews of Venezuela's first lady facing charges of conspiring to import 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States confessed to their involvement when they were arrested by US agents in November, according to newly-released court records. The pair face a maximum life sentence.

Details of the confessions of Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, were contained in documents U.S. prosecutors filed late on Friday in a Manhattan federal court.

The papers include summaries of US Drug Enforcement Administration interviews conducted on a November 10 flight to New York from Haiti, where authorities had arrested the two nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores.

The summaries were filed as exhibits to a motion by prosecutors opposing a bid by the men to have their post-arrest statements suppressed on the grounds that they did not fully understand their rights under US law to remain silent.

US authorities have linked high-ranking Venezuelan officials to drug trafficking. In December, prosecutors accused Néstor Reverol, the head of the National Guard of Venezuela of involvement

Both men have been held without bail since their November arrest and indictment for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

According to the DEA records, Campo Flores said they planned to get the cocaine from an individual who was in turn supplied by the Colombian paramilitary group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In Friday's motion, prosecutors said recorded conversations involving the cousins before their arrests suggested they lived lavishly in Venezuela. Campo Flores was recorded saying he owned Ferraris, and that "ever since we started making money we've been flashy".

But according to court records, Campo Flores told the DEA he did not have even $10,000 to his name and earned just $800 per week through taxis he owned in Panama.

Asked why he got involved in the deal, Flores de Freitas said: "To make money." Specifically, he expected the first load to make $5 million, earning him $560,000, the records state.

Prosecutors said the pair had hoped a series of drug shipments they would be involved in would generate $20 million.

The case is one of a series by US authorities linking high-ranking officials linked to the Venezuelan government to drug trafficking. In December, US prosecutors accused Néstor Reverol, the head of the National Guard of Venezuela, of drug trafficking.

The nephews' case has been an embarrassment for Maduro, who is embattled by a political and economic crisis in Venezuela.

According to news reports, Efraín Campos Flores told his arresting officers that he was Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s godson and that his aunt, first lady Cilia Flores, raised him after the death of his mother. US officers rejected their diplomatic immunity arguments.

The operation began in October when the two suspects contacted an undercover DEA agent in Honduras to ask him for his help in transporting a cocaine shipment from the airport on Roatán island in the Caribbean.

In later meetings, according to a source quoted by The Wall Street Journal, the suspects took a kilo of cocaine to the US undercover officer to show him the quality of the drug, and explained that their intention was to sell it in New York. The meetings were reportedly recorded by the DEA.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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