US sentences nephews of Venezuelan first lady 18 years


New York (AFP)

A US judge on Thursday sentenced two nephews of Venezuela's first lady to 18 years in prison for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas were convicted by a New York jury in November 2016 after being arrested in Haiti in 2015 and flown to the United States.

US District Judge Paul Crotty imposed the 18-year jail term in a Manhattan federal court on Thursday. US government prosecutors had requested a 30-year sentence. Defense lawyers sought the minimum 10-year penalty.

Their arrest and trial fanned tensions in already fraught US-Venezuelan relations, with Washington at loggerheads against socialist President Nicolas Maduro and the South American oil giant mired in economic crisis.

The cousins, who are sons of brothers of First Lady Cilia Flores, were convicted of plotting to smuggle 800 kilos (1,760 pounds) of cocaine into the United States, as well as manufacturing and distribution with the intent to import.

The Venezuelan government says they were framed.

Lawyers for both defendants argued that they fell into a trap set by the US Drug Enforcement Administration in a sting operation that offered $20 million for the drugs.

US government prosecutors say the men believed they were above the law as relatives of Maduro. Their aunt, Cilia Flores, was speaker of the National Assembly from 2006 to 2011.