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Venezuelan first lady's nephews charged with importing cocaine into US

HO / Presidencia, AFP | Handout photo released by the Venezuelan Presidency of President Nicolas Maduro and First Lady Cilia Flores in Caracas on August 28, 2015

Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady have been indicted in the United States for conspiring to import cocaine, according to court papers made public on Thursday.

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Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, were arrested in Haiti, flown to New York on Tuesday, and charged in a one-count indictment filed in Manhattan federal court.

The indictment alleged that in October the two participated in meetings in Venezuela regarding a shipment of cocaine that was to be sent to the United States via Honduras.

Both are nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores.

The news may tarnish Maduro’s image as he heads toward December legislative elections, which are expected to be among the most difficult for the ruling Socialist Party due to the OPEC nation’s ongoing economic crisis.

The US State Department says that more than half of the cocaine produced in neighbouring Colombia is trafficked through Venezuela toward markets in Europe and the United States.

Maduro denies those charges, calling them a smear campaign against the Socialist Party.

The two young men were arrested after contacting an undercover US agent about selling 800 kg (1,763 lbs) of cocaine through Honduras, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing two sources familiar with the matter.

US Attorney Preet Bharara, a spokeswoman for Manhattan federal court, declined comment and Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to calls.

Flores, 62, whom the president refers to as the “First Combatant,” is a highly influential figure in her husband’s government. She worked on the legal team of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, working to secure his 1994 release from prison after a failed coup attempt.

In 2006, she became the first woman elected to lead the legislature, taking over that role from Maduro, and is registered as a candidate in the December 6 legislative elections.

She is frequently seen at Maduro’s side in public events, and on Wednesday was with him in Saudi Arabia. Maduro is scheduled to speak at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday to defend his country’s human rights record in the face of accusations he has stifled dissent.

A US State Department report from March said that public corruption in Venezuela facilitates drug smuggling, and it implicated high-ranking Venezuelan government officials in the trade.

The US Treasury has placed nine Venezuelan officials on the “kingpin” list, which bars those suspected of involvement in large-scale drug trafficking from the US financial system.

At least 100 military and police officials in the last five years have been accused of drug trafficking by Venezuelan prosecutors, according to the state prosecutors’ office.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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